God rest ye sottish gentlemen. And may the things you dismay not be seen in the light of a sober day. It’s Christmas in Ireland, a reason to raise a glass. But for the motley crew gathered at a dingy house in Baldoyle near Dublin, just breathing seems a reason to raise a glass.Liquor, loneliness and lament are the main themes of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, part of the B3 Series at B Street Theatre. The play opens in modern-day Ireland on the day before Christmas, and we see the remains of a previous night’s bender in a dank and dreary living room—saggy furniture, tipped over glasses, empty liquor bottles, remnants of food, strewn dirty laundry. Oh, and the moaning figure emerging from behind the couch clutching his head.
The figure is Ivan, friend of the family and one of the poor sots that gather to imbibe. The family consists of brothers Richard and Sharky—Richard recently blind due to an accident probably caused by drink, and Sharky, who is “off the drink” but chased by demons and decisions made by drink. For the threesome, soon joined by two others, it becomes clear that drink brought on their problems, problems brought on the drink and the vicious cycle remains ever thus.
The first half is really character development and storytelling by the three, ending with the introduction of another feckless friend, Nicky, and a mysterious stranger he invites back for a Christmas Eve card game. Before the night is over, secrets will be spilled and souls will be in peril when it turns out the stranger is back to collect on a forgotten debt and is willing to play cards for the outcome.
As part of the B3 Series, The Seafarer is a bit edgier than regular season B Street offerings in both subject matter and language. McPherson’s dialogue, which is the strength of the play, showcases Irishmen who haven’t met a sentence they couldn’t add a “fuck” or “shite” to—either as nouns, verbs or adjectives. And the smaller theater venue that houses the B3 Series gives a needed intimacy to a bleak play about sad sacks. McPherson is a master storyteller and character developer, though his setup and cathartic ending feels a bit forced.
B Street has gathered a great cast of characters—Kevin Karrick, David Silberman, Kurt Johnson, John Lamb and Phil Cowan (formerly of the Y92.5 radio team Paul and Phil). They are a cohesive team, able to juggle overlapping dialogue and difficult dialects (though sometimes accents wander), and make pathetic pals who could grow wearisome actually endearing.