A tale of redemption involving four drunken poker-playing Irishmen and the devil himself will come to the local stage as Conor McPherson's black comedy "The Seafarer," the inaugural production of the Fishtown Players Theater. The show opens tonight and runs the next two weekends.
Set on Christmas Eve at a Dublin home, the main character Sharky returns to the home of his late parents to take care of his brother Richard who became blind after an accident. Their friends come over for a game of cards when an unexpected caller visits, and the story rages forward, provoking much laughter as well as silence.
Michael McNamara, a founder of the new Gloucester-based theater group and one of the five actors in the play, said this work has an element of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life."
"The protoganist is down and out, and he's made a mess of his life. He's gone home for Christmas to take care of his brother," he explained. "When their friends arrive, they bring this individual who Sharky made a deal with 25 years before. This is a Faustian character, a devil come to collect his debt. They think they are playing an ordinary game of cards but Sharky is literary playing for his soul."
"The Seafarer" premiered at London's National Theatre, after which it moved to Broadway and received four Tony nominations, including Best Play and Best Direction, in 2007. The play also was nominated for the prestigious British Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2007.
The idea to produce this play has been percolating with McNamara ever since he saw it in Boston in 2008, and he chose it for the debut of the new theater company, which formed earlier this year.
"I was so engaged by the play. I went by myself on a Sunday afternoon and returned with a bunch of friends," he said. "It's incredibly funny but also very moving. You are laughing at the human foibles. The audience was so into the play that it felt like there was movement in the theater."
The local production is co-directed by McNamara and Jay DiPrima, who has taught and directed performing arts at O'Maley Middle School for the past nine years.
DiPrima also teaches graduate courses in drama and education for Fitchburg State and Endicott collegea. He has toured as an actor and director with the Guild Players Touring Company, bringing historical figures to schools.
In this show, DiPrima plays the stranger, Mr. Lockhart, and McNamara plays Richard, Sharky's brother.
The Dublin-born Rory O'Connor, who now lives in Gloucester, plays Sharky. In fact, O'Connor came from the same neighborhood where this play is set and he's been to the same public houses — local pubs — named in the play. He played professional soccer player in Ireland.
"He knows the milieu and he has been able to share that with his fellow actors," said McNamara.
An abstract artist, O'Connor paints houses for his day job. He knows McPherson's previous work, having played a role in Cape Ann Theater Collaborative's production of "The Weir." He also performed in Theater in the Pines' production of "The Mad Woman of Chailot."
DiPrima, who holds a doctorate in educational theater from New York University, has taken on a new role with a character with a dark nature instead of the more self-realized individuals he has played, such as Gandhi, Thoreau and St. Augustine.
"I was not familiar with this play and when I read it, I fell in love with the play and the language," he said. "It follows somewhat the Catholic theology of the devil and heaven and hell, and based upon the deeds in your life, you will either be rewarded or taken down in the afterlife — and it kind of turns that on its head. There's redemption in the end."
The other two cast members have long resumes in local and regional theater.
David Adams plays Nicky Giblin, and Bob Karish plays the role of Ivan. Karish can be seen occasionally in "Flanagan's Wake" which performs around the Boston area. He also has performed at comedy clubs all over New England and in New York City with the improv troupe "Comedie Du Jour."
McNamara, who has been acting and producing on area stages for 35 years, earned a bachelor's degree in theater arts from Salem State College. He made his Actor's Equity debut in Israel Horovitz's "Park Your Car in Harvard Yard" at the Manhattan Theater Club with Ellen Burstyn and Burgess Meredith.
He said the characters in "The Seafarer" are rich in spirit.
"They are all serious drinkers and this is really a band of brothers," said McNamara. "This play has been a revelation in terms of creativity. Everyone is sharing and making connections to their characters. The play will give you hope because it's all about human connections. The thing that really saves Sharky is the love of his friends."
McPherson, who also wrote "The Weir" and "St. Nicholas," has been dubbed the best playwright of his generation by several critics. Reviews consistently praise the playwright for his storytelling talent.
Gail McCarthy may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
Who and what: Fishtown Players Theater announces its inaugural production of Conor McPherson's instant classic, The Seafarer,
When: Tonight's show at 7:30 p.m. is a pay-as-you-can performance. Show times are at 7:30 p.m. on April 20, 21, 27, 28 and Sunday, April 22 & 29, at 3 p.m.
Where: Gorton's Theater (home of Gloucester Stage Company), 267 E. Main St. in Gloucester.
How much: $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.
Details: For information and reservations, call 978-515-7957. There will be a special benefit for The Gloucester Writers Center on April 26 at 7:30 p.m. Call the center for details at 978-283-7738.