If you can just ignore your nose at H Street Playhouse, you’ll realize Scena Theatre’s production of The Seafarer stinks to high heaven—and I hasten to add I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Designer Michael C. Stepowany has crafted a dank Irish basement so believably festooned with items that would (were this real life, rather than a stage) create olfactory unpleasantness—half-empty beer bottles, a whiskey-saturated rug, moistly grimy upholstery, filthy gym socks hung as Christmas stockings—that director Robert McNamara need make very little fuss when playwright Conor McPherson adds such details as a toilet that won’t flush, or a drunk who has put off his bath for so long he figures one more day won’t matter.
That unkempt sot is Richard (Joe Palka, loud and loutish), the blind older half of the brotherly pair that inhabits this squalid cottage in North Dublin. It’s he who tells his soberer sibling Sharky (Eric Lucas, comparatively subdued), that he’d like to start this Christmas Eve not with breakfast, but with an Irish coffee (minus the coffee) and that he’s asked amiable layabout Ivan (Brian Mallan) and doltish Nicky (David Mitchell), who’s taken up with Sharky’s ex, to join them that evening for a friendly game of poker.
It’ll get less friendly when Nicky invites a stranger—a Mr. Lockhart (David Bryan Jackson) who’s dapper as the devil and a downright beelzebubbly conversationalist—and the stakes turn, shall we say, damningly high. Seems Sharky made a Faustian bargain a while back, and Mr. Lockhart has arrived to play for his very soul.
If you’re familiar with the ghosts who populated the drunken tales in McPherson’s The Weir and Shining City, you may be startled by the specifically Christian mythology he’s employing in The Seafarer, which was inspired by an eighth-century Anglo-Saxon poem of the same name. Still, the boozing and haranguing are vintage McPherson, and when handled deftly, as they were in a production at Studio Theatre a couple of years back, they can certainly entertain. Here the dialogue is largely stammered and shouted, and the evening comes to feel like little more than a long night’s journey into day. Fine technical work, though by a design team that’s captured the festering milieu with an almost unnerving pungency.