Many theater companies seem to enjoy regressing to childhood during the holiday season, dragging up revivals of “Frosty the Snowman” or “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.” Let it be said that Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. is not one of those.
Peppermint Creek’s “The Seafarer," now playing in Old Town’s Creole Gallery, takes place on a darkening Christmas Eve, when the Devil pays a visit to the Irish highlands household of Richard and his brother Sharkey. Conor McPherson’s play starts as a simple tale of blighted brotherly banter, but at the end of Act 1, a more sinister story is revealed.
Doak Bloss is Sharkey, newly returned from losing another job to care for his now blind, older brother Richard, played by Rick Dethlefsen. Sharkey is a battered wreck of a soul, barely surviving many life disappointments, while Richard somehow manages to hold a cheerful countenance and optimism despite blindness and limited finances.
The brothers are joined by friends Ivan (Eric Dawe) and Nicky (Jack Dowd) for another of their famous drunken Christmas Eve poker games. Nicky brings along Mr. Lockhart (Brad Rutledge), who turns out to be the Devil incarnate, out to collect Sharkey’s soul for something he did long ago.
Dethlefson is at the head of this testosterone-driven pack, displaying a wide range of emotion, from spontaneous outbursts of anger and outrage to terror and abject fear. In between, he is sometimes as chipper as a cherub, especially when his glass is full.
Rutledge is a disconcertingly charming devil, dark eyes gleaming like black stones, revealing a vile lack of empathy that sucks the air out of the room. When he loses the opportunity to steal away with Sharkey’s soul at play’s end, he is palpably evil and scary on the stage, as he attempts to contain his rage and then explodes.
Bloss’s Sharkey is somewhat understated, except when acknowledging to himself the hold the devil has on him. In those moments, his fear comes out in cold sweats. One can almost smell the perspiration, see the contracted stomach, the vacant eyes.
Dawe and Dowd function as foils, adding comic relief to what otherwise would be an entirely too intense play. Still, each of them presents a welldeveloped, nuanced performance. One senses that these are not unlike real people living somewhere on Irish soil.
Ironically, this play gives a sense of the Christmas story that lesser, lighter stories do not. It’s a deeper understanding that, with the story of the Christ-child’s birth, the world was given a metaphor for the possibility of overcoming serious traumatic mistakes in one’s life, literally redeeming one’s soul. Amen to that.
By Conor McPherson Through Nov. 22 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St., Lansing $10/$15 (517) 927-3016 www.peppermintcreek.org