For all the pain and longing that permeates Conor McPherson's latest play, there’s also a significant amount of hope and spirit. And spirits. Those who caught his two previous Broadway ventures (The Weir, Shining City) won't be surprised about the quantity of alcohol consumed by his quintet of characters, five Irishmen for whom midnight mass on Christmas Eve means endless rounds of drinks and poker. But for James "Sharky" Harkin (David Morse), who's battling the bottle and dealing with personal demons, the evening could cost him his soul.
But instead of a mere ghost, like the ones that haunt characters in other McPherson plays, Sharky has to square off against the devil himself, and he shows up in the debonair form of a stranger named Mr. Lockhart (Ciarán Hinds). On Christmas Eve 25 years ago he was in jail with Sharky, who was released, even though he'd killed a vagrant, because he beat the devil at cards. Now he wants a rematch, and if he wins, Sharky loses his life.
McPherson, who also directed this character-rich Faustian play, mixes bawdy drunken humor with religious symbolism to considerable effect. Sharky's older brother, Richard (Jim Norton), whom Sharky has returned home to care for, lost his sight in a Halloween accident, and his scruffy drinking/card-playing buddy Ivan (Conleth Hill) spends most of the play squinting and searching for his missing glasses.
Although there may not be many surprises in what unfolds, the wonder comes in the eloquent and stirring performances. Norton's spurts of joviality and self-pity may be more crowd pleasing than Morse's careful and concentrated catharsis, but both engage. And why shouldn't a play set during Christmastime feature faith, redemption, friendship and three wise men in the form of drunken gamblers?
By DIANE SNYDER
Visit the Site
Ciarán Hinds, Conleth Hill, Sean Mahon, David Morse, Jim Norton
222 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036