Monday, December 15, 2008

The Seafarer (The SOB Review)

The Seafarer (The SOB Review) - Downstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Illinois

*** (out of ****)

When I saw Conor McPherson's chilling play The Seafarer on Broadway earlier this year, I deadpanned that it's so damned good, it's practically enough to put the fear of God in you. Now, that fear is being instilled via regional productions throughout the United States, including in Chicago by Steppenwolf.

Even if Randall Arney's direction can't match McPherson's own taut vision, or John Mahoney's blind drunkard Richard Harkin doesn't come anywhere near the breathtaking performance offered by Jim Norton (who earned a very well-deserved Tony for his incredible work), this is still one helluva good yarn.

Time appropriate, not only for the holidays, but also for these troubled economic times, The Seafarer remains one of the best new tales of redemption produced this year, and it's delivered here with gusto by Francis Guinan as Richard's brother Sharky, Alan Wilder as Ivan, Randall Newsome as Nicky, and Tom Irwin as Mr. Lockhart. In fact, the brilliant Wilder somehow captures the same comedic verve as Conleth Hill, even without the former having seen the latter's Tony-nominated performance.

If there is a performance that manages to exceed the one I saw on Broadway, it was Francis Guinan's extraordinarily touching take as Sharky. Guinan once again imbues yet another of his wide-ranging characters with limitless shadings and nuance, in this case of a man who's not only been humiliated, but who's seeking redemption for his troubled soul. Guinan's excellent portrayal lifts the entire production.

While Steppenwolf's mounting can't beat the hand dealt on Broadway, this solid production deserves a full house nonetheless.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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