THE NEWS-PRESS RAVES: THE DEVIL PAYS A VISIT IN FLORIDA REP’S ‘THE SEAFARER’
CHARLES RUNNELLS, 9:32 a.m. EST December 3, 2015
Are you dreaming of a dark, drunken Christmas? Then Florida Rep has the show for you.
The comedy/drama “The Seafarer” puts a fresh spin on black-tinged holiday classics such as “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And it does so with thick Irish accents, lots of booze, a flurry of F-bombs, and a visit from the Devil, himself.
Happy Christmas to all!
If this sounds like a downer, don’t worry. It’s not. “The Seafarer” is smart, poetic and funny and — most importantly for a holiday show — it ends on a heartwarming note of hope and redemption (but not TOO heartwarming, mind you).
All this despite starring a bunch of heavy drinkers and a cantankerous blind man who bellows, at one point, that “There’s so little left to live for!”
Directed by David Edwards, “The Seafarer” opens after an all-night bender in a threadbare Dublin City house full of equally threadbare, bleary-eyed revelers — who, judging from all the empty bottles and cans scattered around the room, apparently polished off a stupefying amount of Harp beer and Jameson whiskey.
The drunks stumble around and slur their words as they start with a little “Irish breakfast” and continue drinking throughout the day. And they banter and bicker and curse like only long-time friends can. But then a mysterious stranger named Mr. Lockhart shows up for a Christmas Eve game of poker where the stakes are much higher than a few euros.
The dapper Mr. Lockhart, in case you haven’t figured out, isn’t a man of the world — or even a man of this world. He’s Satan, himself. And, as played by Peter Thomasson, he’s cold, menacing and unsettlingly creepy.
One moment, Lockhart is all smiles and cheer as he jokes with everybody. But the drunks are too plastered to notice that his false smile doesn’t register in his eyes and that his every word is tightly coiled and full of barely restrained violence. Or that, when nobody’s looking, his smile fades, his pretend humanity disappears and he glares at everybody with cold, dead eyes as if these people are nothing but bugs to him.
That, together with Lockhart’s unnatural stillness and smoothly shaved head, gives him the appearance of a lizard at times — with just as much warmth and humanity as you’d expect.
Thankfully, that chilling, hypnotic performance gets balanced nicely by warm, full-bodied acting from the rest of the cast: the quick-tempered Nicky (William Zielinski), the amusingly disheveled Ivan (Craig Bockhorn), the likable but apparently doomed Sharky (James Clarke) and his frail, cranky brother Richard (Graham Smith), a blind man who uses an old golf club as a guide stick and talks in a hilarious nonstop stream of gripes, bellows and curse words.
Sharky’s life is a shambles — and the other guys aren’t doing that great, either — but he’s trying to get his life together and hasn’t had a drink in two whole days. Things don’t appear like they’ll get better any time soon, though, especially when Mr. Lockhart tells him who he really is and why he’s really there: To win Sharky’s soul and take him through “the old hole in the wall” and straight to Hell.
Will that happen? Probably not, since this is a Christmas story. But you’ll have to watch to find out.
The clues lie in the Christmas carols and hymns that Richard drunkenly, joyfully sings throughout the play, including “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
“Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day,” he sings, “to save us all from Satan’s power when we have gone astray.”
These men have certainly gone astray from time to time. But perhaps a Christmas miracle might still be waiting for them under the proverbial tree.