The devil in the details

Posted on 05 Feb 2009 at 10:41am
By Arnold Wayne Jones Staff Writer

Satan and whisky share the spotlight in Stage West’s ‘The Seafarer’


An Irishman with a dark past (Matthew Stephen Tompkins, left) cares for his blind brother (Jim Covault, far right) in ‘The Seafarer’ at Stage West, directed by Rene Moreno.

If you believe the current spate of Irish playwrights, life on the Emerald Isle is a bastion of boredom, where whisky-soaked conversations center around such esoterica as where the gay pickup capital of Ireland is located… and whether that should matter to a bunch of straight men in the first place. It’s enough to make you long for something — anything — to happen and shake things up.

Well, maybe not anything.

Sharky (Matthew Stephen Tompkins) has returned to his brother’s small coastal house to care for him following an accident that left him blind. It hardly seems like a big deal: The brother, Richard (Jim Covault), has spent most of his life blind drunk, so actually sightlessness seems almost incidental. The trauma has left him a petulant sot, bullying Sharky with self-pity and sniping.

But Richard’s harping is nothing compared to what Mr. Lockhart (Jerry Russell), a newcomer in town, asks of him. Sharkey made a deal with Lockhart 25 years ago to spare his life, and now it’s time to pay up with his soul. But the devil is a sporting chap, and agrees to a poker hand to settle the wager. He’s a cheater, but still.

Notwithstanding its otherworldliness, Conor McPherson’s "The Seafarer" — now playing at Stage West in Fort Worth under the always-deft direction of Rene Moreno — is a fairly traditional piece of drama — "A Doll’s House" focused through the prism of "Faust:" A character is forced to confront his shady past, which threatens his present and future.

Blending supernatural elements with the fiercely prosaic quality of a domestic drama is walking a razor’s edge, and "The Seafarer" never seems to find its focus. For much of the time, its fetishizing of alcoholism makes it seem like a brogue-filled version of "The Lost Weekend;" only as Act 1 draws to a close does it glimpse into hell.

But if anyone can convince you that Satan likes to pound one back with the lads, it’s Russell, who effortlessly convinces you that anything is possible. His sinister smile belying a commanding silence, Russell really sells the hoodoo and hokum. He’s ably matched by the burly, brooding, charismatic Tompkins, who hasn’t been seen on North Texas stages in far too long. Excellent comedic relief is skillfully provided by Covault and Chuck Huber as unrepentant drunks.

Among the tight cast, only Chris Hauge fumbles. His accent is less Irish Coast than Irish Spring — at least until he has to yell or talk fast, in which case all pretense of a dialect disappears completely. He moves with weirdly awkward mannerisms, and badly flubbed several lines on opening night. He could take a lesson from Russell, who time and again looks as comfortable in front of an audience as a pair of worn slippers. And that’s no blarney.

Stage West, 821 W. Vickery Blvd., Fort Worth. Through Feb. 22. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays–Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. StageWest.org.



VALENTINE’S DAY IN THE ARTS
Have a new sweetie you want to impress with an evening of entertainment, but not sure what he or she would enjoy most? You have a lot to choose from in the arts next weekend.

For the comedy lover, lesbian standup Kate Clinton brings her edgy humor to the Lakewood Theater for a Feb. 13 concert, starting at 8 p.m.

There’s comedy and music with "The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Park Housewife" (pictured), the season opener from Uptown Players. Author Del Shores will be in attendance at KD Studios Theatre on opening night, Feb. 13, but the show runs until March 15.

For the opera queen, the Dallas Opera closes its final season at Fair Park Music Hall with Puccini’s enduring and popular classic "La Boheme." Starting Feb. 13, it plays four performances, with the final night Feb. 21.

And if you’re still looking for a "love"-ly date on Valentine’s Day join Stephan Pyles and the Turtle Creek Chorale for "Music Be the Food of Love," the Chorale’s holiday-themed concert featuring a live onstage cooking demonstration from the acclaimed gay chef. It plays at the Meyerson Symphony Center Feb. 14 at 2 p.m. and Feb. 15 at 8 p.m.

— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 6, 2009.

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