While waiting for the City Theatre production of The Seafarer to begin, a friend and I were trying to remember who wrote the film In Bruges. We couldn't recall if it was Martin McDonagh or Conor McPherson. Both men are considered Irish playwrights (even though McDonagh was born and raised in England to Irish parents), and their works debuted in London and then Broadway in the mid-1990s, as they became the Irish "playwrights du jour" for several seasons.
McDonagh, author of The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan, specializes in ornately plot-driven melodramas about poverty-stricken Irish people.
McPherson also writes about the dirt-poor Irish but his plays, at least The Weir and Dublin Carol, are less about plot and more about people sitting onstage telling each other long-winded stories.
As it turns out, In Bruges is McDonagh's, but it's the provenance of Seafarer that should have stumped us. Though it was written by McPherson, I could have sworn it was McDonagh's. Four very poor Irish men, three of whom are ridiculously -- if not theatrically -- stupid, spend Christmas Eve drinking just about everything except the gasoline in their cars. Into this delightful mix comes a stranger to collect a debt via a very high-stakes card game.
For a two-and-a-half hour play it's not much of a plot, but it is a plot (with, oddly, a standard McDonagh-styled cheesy twist at the end). And it is, most notably for a McPherson play, missing those trademark McPherson monologues. In fact, the author goes out of his way to avoid longwinded backstory, leaving us to fill in the blanks, certainly my favorite part of McPherson's writing here.
There are few directors in this city who know comedy as well as Tracey Brigden, as she demonstrates with this fast-paced and sure-footed evening. To be honest, this is a case where the production is considerably better than the play, and the reasons for that are Brigden; a phenomenal set design, by Narelle Sissons; and a wonderfully tight-knit ensemble, featuring Christopher Donahue, Martin Giles, Sam Redford, Noble Shropshire and Mark Ulrich. They occasionally push the comedy a bit too hard, but it's only noticeable because most of the time they're pitch-perfect.
So if you wanna spend the night with a bunch of foul-mouthed, drunken Irishmen ... and you're not invited to my family reunion ... Seafarer is the way to go.
The Seafarer continues through Feb. 15. City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. 412-431-2489.