Sunday, December 07, 2008

'The Seafarer' at Steppenwolf ...

Earlier this year, after I saw The Seafarer on Broadway, I told Ciarán, "The cast is alchemy."

Yesterday, I went to a matinee of The Seafarer at Steppenwolf. Back home, I wrote to Ciarán and said, "... seeing this version after having seen your version, I have to say, the five of you captured lightning in a bottle on Broadway."

Conor McPherson's play is brilliant in any light, but seeing it again made me realize that my assessment was never going to be fair to the second cast. I spent too much of the afternoon flashing back to the Broadway performance, which was perfect. So even if this staging was perfect, it would still be the runner up.

But this staging isn't perfect. John Mahoney does a good job of filling Jim Norton's Tony Award-sized shoes, but he had to be fed lines four times, which was painful. Granted, the play just opened Thursday, so I'm sure he'll work out the kinks, but each time the woman called out a line for him, I wondered, "Can't they wear ear prompters in case someone needs to feed them a line?" I don't know if that's ever done on stage, but it seems like a good idea. Certainly, it would make for many fewer cringe-inducing moments like the four yesterday afternoon.

A man in the row in front of us (I took my mom because she's always game for some theater) heard me talking about the Broadway version and turned around to chat with me about it. He'd seen it, too. I mentioned to him that it was difficult for me to watch this one and not compare the two performances in my head the whole time, and he mentioned Conleth's Ivan who stole many moments, "and Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Lockhart," he said, and said no more. But the tone in his voice was that of, "Well, there's no way any actor could top that performance."

I, of course, concurred.

Mind you, this cast is very good. Francis Guinan as Sharky brought a surprising softness to the role in the third act. And Alan Wilder did a very good job with Ivan, though I kept thinking that he looks an awful lot like Chris Messenger, one of my college professors. Likewise, Randall Newsome as Nicky would have been more believable for me if he didn't look so much like Liam Neeson. But they're all accomplished performers and do well, embodying Conor's creations. Tom Irwin, who plays a priest on Saving Grace on TNT, had the biggest challenge in front of him, playing Mr. Lockhart. An actor surely has an enormous amount of leeway when it comes to playing the part of the devil, but for me, Ciarán owns that role, now and forever.

The set is beautiful in its grungy glory, the one area in which I can give the nod to Steppenwolf over Broadway.

But I've learned my lesson: When an experience takes your breath away, it's best to let it be. Lightning doesn't strike twice.

10 Comments:

Blogger Pat said...

I saw this production. Why would you write a review of the 2nd preview and then compare it to a Broadway production that had probably been going on for weeks (or months)?? I can't take your opinion seriously. You saw a preview and they're still in rehearsal. The play doesn't even open for another week.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

No, the play may not officially open for another week, but the cast is the cast, and time won't change that.

I didn't say it was a bad performance. My point is that the Broadway cast was so extraordinary that no cast will ever replicate the experience for me.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who the heck is this "Ciaran"? (And how in the heck do you pronounce it???)

8:56 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

: o )

Ciaran is pronounced "KEER-un" and he's an actor you may know from many roles, but his most notable of late was that of Caesar in HBO's "Rome."

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how, pray tell, do you know this famus actor?

9:15 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

We met many years ago when I worked at the Chicago Tribune and he made Jane Eyre for A&E and have stayed in touch since.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there,

if you want to know more about Ciarán Hinds, you can visit the website I've dedicated to his work (http://www.ciaranhinds.eu) with three other persons.

I've seen him in "the Seafarer" last February and I enjoyed it very much. I completely agree with Beth that this cast was very special.

I must say that he's a very nice person besides being a good actor.

Best regards,

Sylvie (from France)

2:15 AM  
Anonymous Jerry said...

Hi Beth:

I am the person you spoke with during the matinee on Saturday. I appreciated your comments and thoroughly concur with them: I cannot imagine that an actor of John Mahoney's stature (not to mention his pricetag) would not have his lines cold. In a show so rich in intricate dialogue, the ripple effect on the other actors can be devastating. Even so, I hope that Chicago audiences will share in the magic of this powerful play. Steppenwolf is a wonderful facility; the time of year is just right--and, by the way, the Black Duck right up the street is a great place for a post-show discussion!! I love your blog and and am glad I found it!!

Best,
Jerry Holt

9:06 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Well, hello there, Jerry. How nice of you to drop by.

I agree that Chicago audiences should see the play. it's a knockout piece. Conor McPherson is amazing. Likewise, those who missed "Shining City" at the Goodman last year should find a production of that, too.

Thanks for the tip about the Black Duck! Hope to run into you there sometime.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

And Sylvie, you're absolutely right that he is a very nice person in addition to being a good actor.

Nice work on the web site.

8:23 PM  

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