The Jungle Theater brings a devil of a tale to life

By Tatiana Craine

Kids, Santa won’t be coming down the chimney this year-but Satan might, and he’s got a hell of a treat.Conor McPherson’s hit Broadway play, “The Seafarer,” rounds out the year at The Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. The production serves as a liquor-soaked passage to the holiday season, Irish to the core. The program even includes an Irish to English lexicon for the lushes’ lingo-think of Frosted Flakes as “Frosties” and Irish moonshine whiskey as “poteen.”

The play follows Sharky back home to Dublin after a stint picking up odd jobs. His brother Richard, recently gone blind, reluctantly accepts Sharky’s assistance and spends most of his time cantankerously barking at his younger brother. It’s nearly Christmas and the duo buys a sleigh-load of alcohol-the more the merrier, right? Not for Sharky, who recently quit drinking but still can’t resist the sweet smell of booze in the morning. When the brothers entertain old drinking buddies Ivan and Nicky for Christmas Eve, things become a little eerie with the arrival of Mr. Lockhart, Sharky’s acquaintance from decades back. The five men begin playing poker, and Sharky slowly realizes that maybe he’s betting more than he bargained for-his soul.

Director Joel Sass describes the production as “an Irish redemption story with an edge, a tale of alcoholic dreamers, unattractive lovers, poetry-spouting devils, foul-mouthed saints and accidental heroes, it is both an expert comedy and a chilling ghost story that ups the ante on anyone running from the past.”

The Jungle Theater’s intimate atmosphere lends itself to the production’s snug and cozy, inside-on-a-winter’s-day feel. The theatre feels like a fishbowl that draws the audience in, casting them afloat in a poteen drenched holiday fable. “The Seafarer” takes place in Richard’s rustic, messy living room, which sets the mood for a story steeped in tradition with a chaotic twist. Sundry trinkets, a wood-burning stove, a Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree and a multitude of hidden liquor bottles give the audience the sense of stepping right into the characters’ drunkenly muddled lives.

The actors in “The Seafarer” bring McPherson’s words to life with phenomenal talent.

Macalester alum Stephen Yoakam delivers a performance he seems born to play. He brings authenticity to his role as a man truly and genuinely trying to change his ways. As Sharky demurely stumbles about his brother’s house, tidying up and cooking, audiences feel for Yoakam’s character. When he takes a stand and finally resigns himself to his fate, Yoakam radiates.

Phil Kilbourne shines bright as the morning star in his performance as Mr. Lockhart, who may or may not be the devil incarnate. His cool sophistication wavers as the show progresses and he gargles poteen like it’s water when he and Sharky face-off against each other.

Allen Hamilton is delightfully crotchety and peevish as Richard. A Broadway veteran, he has shared the stage with Brian Denehy. Hamilton appears right at home on The Jungle’s stage, lounging on duct-taped cushions and guzzling whiskey. He manages to model revolting bathroom humor in the most nonchalant and classy manner but also shows a softer more vulnerable side as he fills himself with alcohol and Christmas cheer.

Patrick Bailey (Ivan) and Mark Rhein (Nicky) round out the cast as Richard and Sharky’s two oddball friends. Bailey’s scatterbrained and forgetful Ivan is endearing, countering Rhein’s slick and slimy portrayal of Nicky. Both showcase outstanding talent, balancing the other characters’ dispositions flawlessly.

The play feels much like a nightcap on a chilly winter’s eve-warm and light at first until one becomes suddenly and irrevocably caught up in everything. Sass and the Jungle Theater have stumbled upon the gold at the end of the rainbow in McPherson’s play. “The Seafarer” is a magically delicious holiday treat.

“The Seafarer” will run at the Jungle Theater until Dec. 20. Tickets range from $28 to $36, and half-price rush tickets are available every night of the week 20 minutes before shows. For more information and performance times, visit www.jungletheater.com