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Foundry Performance Laboratory raises stakes with Conor McPherson’s ‘The Seafarer’

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Foundry Performance Laboratory Presents: The Seafarer

Shores Event Center — through Jan. 25

The cast of ‘The Seafarer’ at Foundry Performance Laboratory, from left: Dennis Barnett, Greg Smith, Jason Alberty, Kerry Patrick, Tad Paulson. — Struttmann Photo

I have always subscribed to the philosophy that theater has a responsibility to use the tools at its disposal to expose hypocrisy, contextualize truths and show people who they really are. There is no better way fiction has achieved this goal than with stories that include magic or the supernatural. People are just more honest when they’re making things up.

Conor McPherson answers that charge by injecting a bit of the uncanny into the very real and, in doing so, dissecting human nature. The Seafarer tells the tale of four aging alcoholics who come together to play cards at Christmas. They’ve all been friends of old, but new resentments — and old sins — are bubbling just under the surface. All the drama seems very natural.

Until, of course, they’re joined by the devil.

With the holidays just behind us, many people are still licking wounds carelessly inflicted on them by loved ones. Even as news reports of political aggression and foreign retaliation roll in, we’re still mired in petty interpersonal conflicts. In an atmosphere that cloudy, there’s a kind of wavering hopefulness in a play that harnesses that pain, and the ugliness that surrounds it, to cast a ray of careful light on the future.

Sharky (Jason Alberty) is the beleaguered, underappreciated caretaker to his blind brother, Richard (Dennis Barnett) — a jovial instigator, despite his affliction. Both brothers cling to these personas until circumstance, or provocation, shatter them. Then the selfish, guilty messes they are underneath are exposed. Rather than condemn them, David Morton’s direction somehow made me root for them.

The script gives them a lot to work with, and they take advantage of every word to deliver nuanced portrayals of the joy, connection and resentment that the relationships between siblings contain. Their love for each other is as fierce as their anger with each other, and I felt both in my bones when the play entered more dangerous territory. Without giving anything away, I was moved to actual, physical tears of fear and empathy, simply because their relationship was so damned believable and real.

The strength of that connection provided more of a setting than any overdone set or technical wizardry could. For this production, both were simple and realistic and stayed out of the way. The one exception being a lit-up poster of Jesus on the wall, which accents something else this play delivers on excellently.

This is a well-made play by any definition, and there’s something extremely satisfying about all the bits of a plot coming together to truly achieve the goal of inevitability in retrospect. When glossed over or sped through, audiences tend to revolt. (Don’t believe me? Ask Twitter what it thinks of Season 8 of Game of Thrones.) This play delivers a payout to every question it raises. This is where the Jesus poster and the supporting cast both really shine.

Ivan Curry (Greg Smith) and Nicky Giblin (Kerry Patrick) were both, hilarious, despicable and sympathetic in their own right. Every character in this play is fully fleshed out and the actors’ effort to live in the world of the play was delicately achieved. I felt the strength of the bond between Nicky and Richard, which was so delicious in contrast to the tension between Nicky and Sharky. Ivan’s friendships with each brother were equally distinct and well-executed. Plot points that could have been heavy handed ended up feeling extremely natural. And while it would be easy to paint these characters as devices to fill in the world, they also both move the action forward without drawing any focus from the main events. It’s pretty wonderful supporting acting.

On the antagonist train, Mr. Lockhart (Tad Paulson) was as divorced from the natural as one would hope, for a man possessed by the devil. Everything about the four friends that was warm and easy, was off and disconcerting in Mr. Lockhart’s ill-fitting skin. It was a refreshing and interesting choice, supported by the script, that lent him a menace that was palpable without being trite.

As vulgar as it is esoteric, The Seafarer is a play both for theater nerds and for people who don’t typically enjoy theater. I laughed fairly continuously, even as my heart was pounding. I highly recommend going with a group and dissecting it over drinks afterward at the bar conveniently also located in the Shores Event Center, where it’s playing through Saturday, Jan. 25, with a performance free for veterans on Tuesday, Jan. 21. The shows are at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $10.

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