Reviewed by Judy Richter
It's the day of Christmas Eve in a small Irish town. The setting is an unkempt home after a night of drinking by its residents and a friend. Much more drinking and perhaps a transformation or redemption lie ahead in Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer," presented by San Jose Stage Company. The home is occupied by the heavy drinking, demanding and sometimes disgusting Richard Harkin (Julian López-Morillas). Blinded by an accident when he was drunk (he's rarely sober), he has recently been joined by his brother, "Sharky" (Randall King), who has lost yet another job and is trying to stop drinking. Their guest is Ivan Curry (Colin Thomson), who stayed overnight because he was too drunk to go home. Later in the day, they're joined by another townsman, Nicky Giblin (Donald G. Emmerich), who brings with him a stranger he met while bar-hopping.
This stranger, Mr. Lockhart (Kevin Blackton), is much better dressed and better spoken than the other men. He joins them in a night of poker and drinking that has far higher stakes than anyone except Sharky knows. Mr. Lockhart has come to claim Sharky's soul in return for a major favor done some 20 years ago.
Although the poker becomes a focal point, the more interesting aspect is the emotional path that Sharky must follow, along with insights into Richard's and Mr. Lockhart's characters. The demanding, cantankerous Richard nevertheless has a cheerful streak that makes him more and more likable. He also begins to allow his neediness to show through, thus giving Sharky a chance to overcome some of his own self-loathing. Finally, even Mr. Lockhart, who's the devil in human disguise, must accept a dose of humility, thanks to what might be seen as an accident of fate or the intervention of a higher power.
Kimberly Mohne Hill directs the well-balanced cast in this fascinating play. López-Morillas, who also played Richard in Marin Theatre Company's production a year ago, is terrific. The most memorable portion of the two-act play is Blackton's delivery of Mr. Lockhart's eloquent description of hell. In the process, Mr. Lockhart reveals his own agonies of being in that hell.
Michael Palumbo has designed the set, which works quite well in San Jose Stage's intimate setting. The lighting is by Michael Walsh with costumes by Jean Cardinale. The sound by Rich Miller is notable for its Irish music and its eerie wind.
"The Seafarer" doesn't fit the usual description of the light-hearted fare served by most theater companies during the holidays, yet its ultimate message of hope and caring is appropriate.