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Wendy R. Williams'
February 2008 Theatre Column

February 11, 2008

Jim Norton, Sean Mahon, Conleth Hill, David Morse
and Cirian Hinds

The Seafarer
Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Last month I saw two plays plays: Conor McPherson's The Seafarer on Broadway and the Roundabout Theater Company’s off-Broadway production of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart.

The Seafarer is playing on Broadway at the Booth Theatre through March 30, 2008. The Seafarer stars: Jim Norton (as Richard Harkin); David Morse (as Sharky); Conleth Hill (as Ivan Curry); Sean Mahon (as Nicky Giblin); and Cirian Hinds (as Mr. Lockhart).

Here is a quote from their press release: “Conor McPherson's The Seafarer is a chilling new play about the sea, Ireland, and the power of myth. It's Christmas Eve and Sharky has returned to Dublin to look after his irascible, aging brother who's recently gone blind. Old drinking buddies Ivan and Nicky are holed up at the house too, hoping to play some cards. But with the arrival of a stranger from the distant past, the stakes are raised ever higher. In fact, Sharky may be playing for his very soul.”

The play is set on Christmas Eve in an incredibly shabby home in Dublin. The house belongs to an old erudite drunk, Jim Norton, who was recently blinded by an unfortunate fall into a dumpster. This down turn in luck has necessitated that Jim’s ne’er-do-well younger brother Sharky come home to help out around the house.

Jim has a few friends who despite advancing age enjoy hanging at a house where there are no rules and a drunk can sleep off his whiskey wherever he happens to fall. One of those visitors, Ivan, is lying somewhere in the house as the play begins. And wherever Ivan happens to have been, his glasses were not and for most of the play, are not to be found. So we now have a house populated by two, for all practical purposes, blind drunks. And directing traffic is the hapless Sharky, who is trying desperately not to drink.

This motley group is soon joined by Sharky’s ex wife’s boyfriend, Nicky Giblin, who brings along a stranger he picked up in the pub, Mr. Lockhart. And everyone settles down for a long winter’s night of drink and wit and cards. Yes, cards. No one in the house lets blindness or drunkeness keep them from their love of cards. But it is night of drink and wit and cards which mask a terrifying dilemma. The devil himself has arrived and he wants his pound of flesh. But existential predicament or not, everyone is drunk, and no one seems quite capable of arising to the task of overcoming evil. But play they do, while the devil calmly awaits his due.

Wit is the engine that drives The Seafarer. Conor McPherson’s script is beautifully crafted; he is a playwright who was blessed with the gift from the Irish god of gab. And all of the actors have exquisite timing. Of special note are Jim Norton as Richard Harkin and Conleth Hill as Ivan Curry; they are undoubtedly two of the funniest actors alive.

The Seafarer is playing at the Booth Theatre at 222 West 45th Street. Tickets are $76.50-$96.50. By Phone - 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250 telecharge.com. For more information, log onto: http://www.seafarertheplay.com/.

Crimes of the Heart
Photo Credit Joan Marcus

I also saw the Roundabout Theater’s production of Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart. Crimes is directed by Kathleen Turner and stars: Patch Darragh as Doc Porter; Jennifer Dundas as Lenny Magrath; Sarah Paulson as Meg Magrath; Lily Rabe as Babe Botrelle; Jessica Stone as Chick Boyle; and Chandler Williams as Barnette Lloyd. Paulson recently starred in Aaron Sorkin’s cancelled TV show, Studio 60, where she played the part of the goody-two-shoes Christian performer, Harriet Hayes who is in love with the cynical creator of Studio 60, Matt Albie (played by Matthew Perry). This story was oh-so-loosely based on the real life romance between Christian singer Kristin Chenoweth and Aaron Sorkin.

Crimes has always been one of my favorite Southern gothic plays. Some other reviewers have been a little put off by Henley's constant witty banter, but I am from the South and I know Southern women talk just like that, all the time and a lot.

Any theatrical production of Crimes will, justly or not, be compared to the excellent 1986 movie version of Crimes that starred Diane Keaton as Lenny, Jessica Lange as Meg and Sissy Spacek as Babe. Those three actresses really shot the ball out of the park and set an impossibly high standard for future productions.

I saw the Roundabout Theater's production while it was still in previews. The night I was there, the role of Babe was played by the understudy, Jessica Cummings. So, what did I think about this production? Well, I thought the set as incredible and that there were a quite a few talented actors in the cast, especially Jennifer Dundas as Lenny and Patch Darragh as Doc Porter. My only other comment is that the play seemed a little disjointed, like the production had not quite set. But that problem is probably explained by the presence of the understudy (who did an excellent job) on the stage and by the fact that getting a play to settle in, is exactly why there are previews.

Tickets are $63.75-$73.75. Order by phone at 212-719-1300 and online at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/1207_splash.htm. Crimes plays at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre at 111 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036. The show closes on April 20, 2008.

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