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With booze, cards and the devil, a lauded play by acclaimed young Irish playwright Conor McPherson makes its Pittsburgh debut.

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While the play's called The Seafarer, no one really goes anywhere. Yet that was among its attractions for City Theatre artistic director Tracy Brigden. And according to reviews of previous productions, there's good reason to look forward to Pittsburgh's first chance to be locked in a dingy living room with phenom Dublin playwright Conor McPherson's four hapless, drunken Irishmen and their one curiously well-dressed guest.

"It's just a really juicy story," says Brigden, summarizing: "The devil comes to play poker on Christmas Eve."

McPherson broke on the London scene in 1997, with The Weir, when he was just 25. More recently, with successes including Shining City and Seafarer -- the latter hit Broadway, to critical cheers, in 2007 -- he's been widely acclaimed as one of the top young playwrights in Ireland, perhaps on all the globe. He's even had a wee Pittsburgh run lately, Seafarer sailing in the wake of December's Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre Co. productions of two earlier McPherson works, St. Nicholas and Dublin Carol.

Brigden, who directs for City, says Seafarer is less monologue-oriented than McPherson's earlier plays, but no less adept at interweaving the awful and the hysterically funny. Set in a crumbling house on the outskirts of Dublin, it's about an unemployed seaman named Sharky and his older, blind brother, Richard, as they play holiday hosts to a couple of ne'er-do-well friends, Ivan and Nicky. It's all cards and booze until the arrival of a certain Mr. Lockhart -- and then there's more cards, and more booze, but also the small matter of Sharky's soul coming into question.

"There's a lot of Powers whiskey consumed," says Brigden -- as well as poteen, or Irish moonshine. Meanwhile, she and scenic designer Narelle Sessions have realized the living-room set as a theatrical grotesque: the stage is tilted slightly, so that one end actually seems to be sinking into the earth while the other is cocked to reveal (with Dantean undertones) a basement stuffed with the detritus of these forsaken fellows' lives.

The cast features Broadway veterans Christopher Donahue, as Sharky, and Noble Shropshire, as Richard. Martin Giles (who just starred in PICT's one-man St. Nicholas), plays Ivan; Sam Redford is Nicky; and Mark Ulrich portrays sulphurous Lockhart.

McPherson's writing is famously lyrical. But Brigden says that if the words jump off the page, they really come alive on stage. "Every day [the actors] find more and get deeper" into the script, she says. "It's rare these days that you find a play that has that much depth." She quotes one reviewer who described the play as "the thinking man's It's a Wonderful Life."

Drinking man's, too, sounds like. Or, as McPherson's blind Richard puts it, "Now would you ever give us a Jaysus fucking drink, you're gonna blow the whole Christmas atmosphere."

 

The Seafarer Thu., Jan. 22-Feb. 15. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. $17-60. 412-431-2489 or www.CityTheatreCompany.org

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