Christmastime and booze go together like Santa Claus and reindeer, like snow on the ground and a fire in the hearth. There’s a reason you don’t hear the term “holiday drunk” thrown around on Independence Day or Easter; it’s because only the Christmahanu-kwanza-kkah season has the power to seduce those sober the rest of the year to the dark side of unrepentant inebriation.
December’s drunken debauch — brought on most often by an excess of either frenzied Frosty cheer or dour Scrooge depression — is as much a tradition as lighting candles or hanging mistletoe. And yet, the holiday season is also meant to be a time of reflection, a time to take stock of one’s life and, ideally, be thankful for all of the good things in it. As popular culture for generations has hammered home, ’tis the season for family, friends and redemption, and its stories take all forms.
The Seafarer introduces us to a group of middle-aged misfits in Dublin, Ireland, on a modern-day Christmas Eve. James “Sharky” Harkin ( John Ashton) has recently returned to Dublin to check in on his older brother, Richard (Steef Sealy). Having gone blind some months earlier, Richard is still adjusting to a sightless life. The brothers’ good friend, Ivan (Warren Sherrill), welcomes Sharky home. Sharky’s frenemy, Nicky (Brock Benson), rounds out the quartet and brings along two-fifths, one a bottle of Ireland’s finest and the other a fellow pub-crawler, Mr. Lockhart (Kevin Hart).
Sounds cozy and quaint, does it not? And, in fairness, it is — in a whiskey-soaked, loudly dysfunctional sort of way. You see, Sharky is a ne’er do well who, we learn, has taken just about every wrong turn one could take in a life. Richard’s blindness is due to a head trauma that was largely his own fault. Ivan would rather hang out with his mates than discharge his fatherly duties and thus neglects his wife and children. Nicky? Well, Nicky is just a prat.
The Seafarer posits that all of the lads’ troubles stem from an overly developed love of libation. They are all either alcoholics or drunks, depending on the importance one attaches to attending AA meetings. For most of the play, The Seafarer seems to be a tart, cynically humorous morality tale about the dangers of drink, but in the end it cops out, letting Sharky, Richard and the rest off the hook in the name of feelgood Christmas miracles.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, what fun would A Christmas Carol be if Scrooge woke up dead or, worse, unchanged on Christmas morn? The acting throughout this Ashton Entertainment production is outstanding with Steef Sealy’s Richard and Warren Sherrill’s Ivan earning highest marks. The interplay among all five characters feels so organic that even when it becomes uncomfortable or outrageous it still seems utterly believable.
Much of the credit for both drawing the audience in and for making it laugh at things it might not usually goes to playwright Conor McPherson, who certainly has an ear for the language of real life, especially in Dublin City. The central conceit of the The Seafarer shows him to be an adventurous writer unafraid of the occasional whimsy. As good as it is, though, The Seafarer’s tonal inconsistencies and pacing irregularities make McPherson out to be a sort of cut-rate Martin McDonagh.
The Seafarer is definitely a product of its time. Ask the Catholic Church. The Western world is quickly losing its sense of religious wonder. The “magic” of Christmas — as evidenced primarily by Richard’s bullheaded insistence on a very specific type of celebration — often feels progressively more like holding onto an expired idea of prefab happiness.
I suppose that’s as good a reason as any for happy endings and joyful tears beneath the twinkle of red and green lights and amidst the clinking Jameson glasses and bottles of Harp.