Imagine a rundown living room that has obviously been the location of a wild party. The carpet is littered with beer cans, liquor bottles and overturned chairs. Among this debris, someone lies curled up on the floor in a drunken stupor.
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through July 18
At Performance Network Theatre
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What sounds like a typical Sunday morning at Shady Phi is actually the opening scene of “The Seafarer,” Performance Network Theatre’s latest production. This alcohol-driven drama by Irish playwright Conor McPherson will run at the Performance Network through July 18.
Nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 2008, “The Seafarer” takes place on a windy Christmas Eve in northern Dublin. Lead character Sharky, a struggling alcoholic, has come to look after his older brother Richard, who has recently lost his sight in an accident. The brothers are joined by their friends Ivan and Nicky, as well as a mysterious third visitor.
It turns out that the visitor, who calls himself Mr. Lockhart, is Satan himself. When a whiskey-fueled poker game begins, Sharky learns that he’s not only wagering a pile of Euros, but also his eternal soul, which Mr. Lockhart has come to collect.
At spooky moments throughout the play, Mr. Lockhart reveals his hellish origin to Sharky as the light dims and wind howls outside the house. It is at these moments that the playwright offers his harshest criticisms of humanity and presents a devil struggling with his own troubles and worries, much like the humans with whom he is playing cards.
“I think the character of Lockhart is pretty special,” said “Seafarer” director Malcolm Tulip, a School of Music, Theatre & Dance clinical assistant professor. “The devil is often seen in current literature as this evil force, whereas McPherson reminds us in this play that he actually is a fallen angel … He’s not very pleased about having fallen from grace and having been sent down to hell and not being able to get back to heaven.”
Bringing Tulip’s vision of “The Seafarer” to life is a production staff and design team composed mainly of fellow School of MT&D staff members, including costume designer Christianne Myers, a clinical assistant professor in the Dept. of Theatre & Drama. For the Performance Network’s production, Myers dressed Mr. Lockhart in a dark three-piece suit with a fiery red pocket square. By costuming the devil in business attire, Myers unintentionally stumbled on a recession-era image of the typical “bad guy.”
“I didn’t do this on purpose, but in hindsight I realized that with our economic climate right now, the bad guys are the guys in suits,” Myers said. “All the powerful men wear suits, and there’s a lot of negative connotation with that right now, and I think I cashed in on that without even realizing it.”
In addition to being haunted by a literal demon, Sharky also wrestles with a metaphorical one – the bottle. In fact, every character in “The Seafarer,” even Mr. Lockhart, finds comfort in imbibing bottle after bottle of Irish whiskey.
As the liquor continues flowing throughout the show, characters start to open up to each other. Through drunken monologues and arguments, the audience begins to learn the inner workings of these five Irishmen.
“As damaging as alcohol may be, there’s also a release of defenses,” Tulip said. “The social niceties tend to disappear and you actually start to speak your mind. Interestingly enough, this play was written seven years after Conor McPherson gave up drinking.”
“When they think of ‘Irish,’ (most Americans) think of green beer on March the 17th,” said Tulip, who hopes that the production will expose audience members to a new aspect of Irish culture as well as change stereotypes surrounding alcoholics.
“In America, alcoholism is looked at as one of the worst social evils,” Tulip said. “Being labeled an alcoholic, and even labeling yourself an alcoholic, can tend to obscure the person.”
Just as the play’s main character is saved from a demon of hell, in “The Seafarer,” McPherson shows those struggling with alcoholism can be redeemed from for their own demons.