David Morse & Ciaran Hinds: The Devil to Pay

In a season brimming plays from some of the world's best and brightest writers, audiences are staying warm by spending an evening with five Irish men in a chilly cabin on Christmas Eve.  The Seafarer, a new play by Conor McPherson, sends play-goers a tingle of fear, a tickle of laughter, and a buzz of humanity.  

Pitting legend and superstition against the risk of card-playing and the drink, The Seafarer balances upon polished performers like Hollywood film and TV star David Morse and acclaimed-actor Ciaran Hinds.  Morse portrays droll-sapped Sharky, a genuinely good-boy who can't seem to steer clear of trouble, and now whipped into caring for his blind brother.  On a winter evening with friends, Sharky's life takes a spin with the appearance of a distant-stranger, Mr. Lockhart (Hinds), who places an enormous bet on the table.

BroadwayWorld News Desk Editor, Eugene Lovendusky, met in the depths of the Booth Theatre to discuss the extraordinary characters who fill each inch of Conor McPherson's powerfully engaging and humorous new play...

Eugene Lovendusky – Congratulations and a warm thank you for talking with BroadwayWorld this evening.  The Seafarer is a definite thrill-ride. Tell me about the its title – Conor McPherson read a short poem, correct?

Ciaran Hinds – He picked it up, a pre-medieval eighth or ninth century poem from the Dark Ages. It's basically about this soul who lives precariously "out there" and on their own. I think people have different ideas to whom it refers. Which character?

Eugene – Who do you think it is?

Ciaran – I think it's him. [points to David]

David Morse – I think it's him. [points to Ciaran] I do, because I get to stay on land. He doesn't.

Ciaran – At the same time, you're the one who's kind of flailing around in life with no protocol. You go from job to job in search of something. I mean, I don't know. Neither of us know!

David – For a while, the character of Lockhart is doomed. There is a possibility for me for some kind of redemption. Sparky has certainly spent my time out on the sea and could be out there… but things intervene in his life. Nothing is intervenes in his.

Ciaran – There's a moment where he asks "Am I worth saving?" and he realizes, no. There's a possibility of redemption for just about everybody except him.  It's very hard the way Conor's structured it. It's so funny, this piece. It's set-up with these very funny quirky characters that exist in this low-life kind of way; but they all have their own fantastic sense of comedy and connection before the dark side comes into it. In the second-half where the darkness is introduced – these guys are playing cards with witty fast asides – when we're playing that last hand of cards, there is a silence. A palpable silence in the audience to see who is going to come up with the winning-hand. And then a sense of relief followed by laughter.

Eugene – I want to talk about that card game. It's such a roller-coaster watching it. What is it actually like when you're playing it?

David – For me, there's a real card game going on. There is real stuff going on that's way beyond these hands. There is so much underneath it all. The unknown with some of these characters, I just love.

Ciaran – They do play proper hands of cards with bets and wins. But the under-currents of five different people can be interrupted when somebody starts something. Where is this going to lead to?

Eugene – You both joined these quirky characters here in New York. Jim Norton and Conleth Hill started from the very beginning in London. What was it like integrating with them?

David – They made it incredibly easy. They happen to be very generous. There was a real sense of exploration. Even now on-stage, it hasn't ended. It began in rehearsals, it goes on every night.

Ciaran – There's still journeys being made, in different corners going around at different corners. There's life and that moment of "where are we now?" can still arrive.

David – It's amazing when you watch Jim. It's like watching an incredible symphony. They set that bar pretty high.

Eugene – The Devil is more like a man of legend with so much literature and faith over so many centuries that have created him. How did you come to shape Mr. Lockhart?

Ciaran – In the end, there's Conor McPherson's interpretation through the writing. From Mephistopheles, Satan, Lucifer… there's different images of spouting fire and horns and tails. The idea that the Devil would come back into human form, their shell, he says: "These insect bodies… and being left-handed is a really pisser as well." The idea of the Devil that Conor arrives at is a quiet rage that he can never ever be redeemed. Even though he believes he's more intelligent and true, he's made a mistake, a big one for which he will be eternally punished. He's back on Earth to reach out to try to find some human contact, even if he despises it, because he's so lonely. And then the Devil gets drunk!

Eugene – Should we have sympathy for him that he's so lonely?

Ciaran – Everybody has choices, don't they? I know there's a sense of relief whenever he's beaten.

David – I think what Conor has done is created a really full kind of creature that invites you to have sympathy. But he's not just one thing and there's no "should you feel."

Eugene – Lockhart has a phenomenal monologue where he describes Hell as a place where it is so cold, and you're so alone; nobody cares about you and you can't be a part of any warmth with people. I felt like I took offense because I know that Hell. We all have felt that kind of Hell. To have it spoken out-loud that this is what Hell is…? Why do you think Conor made Hell sound so familiar?

Ciaran – It's a personal version; but people can also touch on that sense of loneliness. Instead of fire and brimstone, but an awful coldness we feel as human beings sometimes, that hopefully doesn't last too long.  Instead of these huge paintings with the pageantry of torture and terror with moments of panic and no relief. It's worse!

David – This was not a description of Hell that I had heard anywhere before, but it sounded absolutely perfect. I don't think I'd ever read anything that so clearly said that is what eternal suffering is.

Ciaran – It's a good laugh as well! You feel these words tumbling out. The audience doesn't know these people. Who are they? You smell them. Like Irish trash. But then finally their life stories rush in and there's a great rush of humanity.

Eugene – To feed a terrible stereotype, but it's not an Irish play without one main character: Alcohol. Curiously enough, Sharky stays away from the drink a lot, while everyone else, including the Devil, is bottoms up. What role does that play?

David – Because he has such a problem with alcohol, until he finally drinks, he doesn't feel like himself.  He finally has to give-in so he can take on that last battle just to feel himself. Of course that creates all kinds of problems of its own. But it's been the trouble he's had all his life. It's not just a fight he gets into – but he tells the truth! And people just don't want to hear it.

Ciaran – You see what happens when he drinks… all Hell breaks loose!

Eugene – This is a play about five men, so masculinity is very present. Sharky is at the mercy of not just one man, but two: His brother and The Devil. What does Sharky lose or what does it mean for him to be at the mercy of another man?

David – It starts with being at the mercy of his own father. He's never dealt with that. It's the road of what has happened to him; his father and his fists. He's really trying to be the good kid and the good son his whole life.

Eugene – Jim's character, Richard, just rips on Sharky so much, over and over again… Sharky is a genuinely good guy (sure, he has faults), so for much of the play I wanted him to get off your back!

David – When Sharky gets up in the morning, he thinks to himself: "I'm not going to let him get to me today. Not today. We're going to get through it…" and it just hits him and wears him down.

Ciaran – He's a cantankerous, curmudgeon of a man.  It's this need of the older brother to keep bullying the younger brother. And yet there's this kind of deep-bond he needs as well. He likes it when Sharky's in good-form and balanced, but he can't resist just poking him and scratching him. It's very human and can be funny as well.

Eugene – David, your recent work has been TV and film. What's it like devoting yourself to the stage again?

David – I've longed to do it. It's been ten years since How I Learned to Drive. To be out there on-stage with these fellows – it's probably one of the greatest gifts to have. These are incredible men and a tremendous play. And I would give Conor a good deal of credit for that.

Ciaran – He's remarkable. He's not like a director in the theatrical-way, but more of a psychological kind of way of how we are as human beings and how we connect. There has to be fun, but also the edge – and he constructs them in a very organic way.

Eugene – You're both adding some great meat to a great season of plays. After a night at the Booth Theatre, what are audiences walking away with?

Ciaran – You genuinely see this warmth of people having been to a real shared-experience with an audience and actors. You know that they're full of something… full of humanity.

The critically acclaimed production of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer performs at the Booth Theatre (222 West 45th Street). The production, directed by McPherson, stars Conleth Hill, Ciaran Hinds, Sean Mahon, David Morse and Jim Norton.  Tickets ($98.50 - $76.50) are available at Telecharge 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com. Show times are Tuesday – Saturday at 8 PM. Matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 3 PM.  For more information visit www.SeafarerThePlay.com

Photos by Joan Marcus (top-bottom): David Morse and Ciaran Hinds; Ciaran Hinds as Lockhart; David Morse as Sharky

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Eugene Lovendusky Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF Bay Area, his love for the arts bloomed at an early-age; a passion that has flourished in NYC, where Eugene now lives and works. He is a proud member of the New York City Gay Mens' Chorus.