There is no seafarer, neither performed nor discussed, in “The Seafarer,” the title referencing an old Anglo-Saxon poem. But that’s far from the strangest thing about the latest production at the Laguna Playhouse.
The show is a wee bit of Irish deviltry. It’s often confusing but always entertaining with an exceptionally strong acting ensemble superbly directed by Michael Matthews, who helmed the brilliant “End of the Rainbow” at the playhouse just a couple of months ago.
In Conor McPherson’s spooky drama, set in a village outside Dublin on Christmas Eve, a newly teetotaling Sharky (JD Cullum) has returned to his old homestead to care for his recently blinded (in a Dumpster-diving mishap) brother Richard (John Vickery in a bravura performance).
Soon a pair of old shipmates, Ivan and Nicky (Michael A. Shepperd and John Colella), arrive along with a nattily dressed stranger, “Mr. Lockhart” (Stephen Caffrey) — who is never referred to by his given first name — and they engage in a game of poker, played for extremely high stakes by two of the fellows. Comedy and terror intermingle in a powerful presentation.
Cullum’s Sharky is the central figure but also the most enigmatic as he attempts to regulate the other hard-drinking characters. His, and the play’s, secret comes to light just before intermission, heightening the suspense of the second act.
Vickery’s sightless character is the most robust of the quintet, raging drunkenly against his ill fortune and reveling in his hold over his brother. It’s the most clichéd interpretation of the lot, yet by far the most engaging.
The neighborhood buddy, played by Shepperd, whose missing eyeglasses prove to be a pivotal point, also injects an energetic interpretation into the action. Colella scores as a volatile figure Sharky could well do without.
The play’s key element is “Mr. Lockhart,” decked out in a three-piece suit in contrast to the others’ “informal” attire. Caffrey builds this character to a fever pitch as he plays an ominous game with the luckless Sharky.
Set designer Stephen Gifford has created an impressively weather-beaten, yet solid structure, which provides a staunch backdrop. Alex Jaeger’s costumes convey their own character splendidly, while the lighting designs of Tim Swiss further enrich the action.
“The Seafarer,” which met high acclaim a decade ago on Broadway, is rich in Irish color and swagger, withholding just enough to tantalize its audiences before its climactic thrust. It’s a rousing rendition at the Laguna Playhouse.
Tom Titus reviews local theater.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Seafarer”
Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
When: Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7 :30, Sundays at 1 and 5:30 until Nov. 4
Cost: $55 - $85
Information: (949) 497-2787 or lagunaplayhouse.com