In lesser hands, "The Ferryman" may have come off as pure hokum, but Mendes makes it absolutely entrancing, bringing out many intense, full-bodied performances, particularly from Donnelly, who brilliantly conveys Caitlin's raw vitality, vulnerability and stifled rage. Other key performances come from Flanagan, who offers an otherworldly, haunted presence and Considine, who gives the impression of a man walking a fine line between his past and present, burdened by guilt, bound to crack.
THE FERRYMAN Broadway Reviews
Reviews of The Ferryman on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for The Ferryman including the New York Times and More...
Glorious is not too strong a word for director Sam Mendes's production of Jez Butterworth's heartbreaker of a play, "The Ferryman." Flawless ensemble work by a large and splendid cast adds depth to the characters in this sprawling drama that is at once a domestic calamity and a political tragedy.
The last time a new drama with this breadth of scope and ambition appeared on Broadway was seven years ago. That was Mr. Butterworth's "Jerusalem," in which a small-time, middle-aged country drug dealer (played by a monumental Mark Rylance) became a majestic emblem of an ancient, heroic England. With "The Ferryman," Mr. Butterworth is again assessing the chokehold of a nation's past on its present. But now it is Northern Ireland at the height of the politically fraught period known as the Troubles. (We hear radio reports of the of the dying Irish Republican hunger striker in the Maze prison.) And he mines the folksy clichés of Irish archetypes - as garrulous, drink-loving, pugilistic souls - to find the crueler patterns of a centuries-old cycle of violence and vengeance.
BWW Review: Jez Butterworth's Olivier-Winning THE FERRYMAN is A Harvest of Engaging Characters and Performances
Butterworth takes his time unfolding details of his plot, focusing more on how a continuing political issue affects family dynamics spanning three generations, leading up to a tense and violent conclusion. Under Sam Mendes' empathetic direction, the wonderful ensemble company provides deeply-textured and entertaining performances. Despite the three and a quarter hour length (one intermission and a brief pause) the play flies by.
Review: 'The Ferryman' on Broadway is Jez Butterworth's epic story about a family in Troubles-era Northern Ireland
It is a measure of the brilliance of Sam Mendes' direction, his uncommon ability to focus your eyes on a corner of this riot of characters, that you often forget Aunt Maggie even is there, sitting in a corner of her wheelchair reminding us that we all lose our mind eventually. The only moment of the show that feels theatrical, as distinct from real, is the tricky final violent climax, which this cast does not quite pull off.
To be clear: Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman is a rollicking, moving, enveloping masterpiece, an emphatic herald of the strength and power of original playwriting on Broadway. It is deserving of every single award it won in London prior to coming to New York, and every award it should deservedly win while it is at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, where it opened Sunday night.
To reveal more would be indefensible, as Butterworth, under the impeccable direction of Mendes, with a flawless cast from young to old (including Fra Fee, Niall Wright and Carla Langley as the eldest Carneys), detail-perfect sets and costumes from Rob Howell, takes this play in directions you won't see coming. The Ferryman toys with what it knows we know - an exuberant Irish jig can't help but remind of Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa, until it goes full-out punk. The gentle Of Mice and Men danger of Tom Kettle, the bloody shocks we've seen from the likes of Martin McDonagh - everything gets rearranged, and you just might gasp at the power and poetry that brings The Ferryman to a close even as you know it had to come to this.
The performances are too good, right across the board, to single out all that merit recognition. But I particularly loved watching Flanagan emerge periodically from waking slumber, her eyes burning with feverish intensity. Another distinguished Irish stage veteran, Molloy, is so caustic as Aunt Pat that her words sting, but there's fathomless sadness beneath her bitter humor. O'Reilly cuts through Mary's fragile presence with a gorgeous speech that spills out of her toward the end, full of conflicting impulses of hurt and compassion. And Edwards' Tom Kettle is a figure of wrenching innocence and haunting pathos.
That ominous opening weighs on everything that follows, as we meet that family, the Carney clan: Quinn (British film star Paddy Considine, who made his stage debut in the London production), his ailing wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly), his sister-in-law Caitlin (Donnelly) and assorted aunts, uncles, offspring and cousins. It is harvest day and there's much work - and feasting - to be done, the vivid family dynamics brought to life with care by a cast that has no weak links and by director Sam Mendes, a frequent Butterworth collaborator.
The devil of it all is that is that, both despite and because of its flagrant use of formula, The Ferryman hooks us through the gills and pulls us along. After all, are we not entertained? There's a live goose, for God's sake. In the wake of the play's frantic, lurid, pull-out-all-the-stops-and-knock-down-all-the-pins conclusion (which makes the whole play feel like the prequel to an as-yet-unwritten bloodbath blockbuster called The Wrath of Quinn), the audience rocketed to its feet - and I got the reaction. Even though, when I stopped to think about it, at least three different elements of the story's final catastrophic 60 seconds left me wondering, "Wait, but why?" In a sense, set and costume designer Rob Howell's rendering of the Carneys' farmhouse, with its barrage of meticulous detail and its absurdly outsize proportions, is the perfect metaphor for the play itself: It's a head-trippy presentation of rich, authentic-seeming texture inside a romanticized, larger-than-life box - a gourmet meal by a very clever chef that somehow gives us the same uneasy satisfaction as Lucky Charms. "That just... almost looked right," said the friend who saw it with me, whose family lives in Donegal, "And... almost felt right. But..."
As a portrait of a vengeance-obsessed culture drowning in its own spilled blood, "The Ferryman" is a searing social document. As a sprawling human drama, poised on the precipice of a violence that you know is waiting for its beguilingly drawn and assayed characters, it is a riveting work of art. It sprawls, too, in the most exhilarating sense of the term. Jez Butterworth's revenge tragedy, which marked its official opening Sunday night at Broadway's Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, teems with people and the events that divide and imperil them.
"The Ferryman" moves like an express, in part because we see its oars churning, even those that are borrowed. There's nothing subtle about it, and that includes most of the big, broad and often very busy performances that the Tony Awards like to honor. Where "The Ferryman" enters a totally original space is its thrilling third act, when those Corcoran nephews take center stage to recall attending Bobby Sands' funeral and falling under the influence the IRA.