South Granville Inhabiter was pleasantly surprised to be invited to Pacific Theatre's production of Irish playwright Conor McPherson's production of The Seafarer. One reason to love the Pacific Theatre, located in Holy Trinity Anglican Church at West 12th and Hemlock, is that it's a stone's throw from each of our houses.
Naturally, the opportunity to attend one of our neighbourhood theatres on opening night and report back to our fellow inhabiters was a mission we took on with gusto. The alley style theatre seating arrangement with the audience facing each other on opposite sides of the stage promised to place us right in the action.
The premise of the play is this: Four old friends who clearly enjoy the odd pint gather for their annual ritual of cards. As the night progresses, things take a dark turn and one individual in particular finds that he has more at stake than just a few quid when the Devil himself shows up to collect on a previous debt.
Although we rarely agree on anything we did agree that it was a great night out. Here's what each of us had to say on the subject:
Opening night at the Pacific Theatre. I was kept sated by my fellow inhabiters. Heather forgot my harness so she kept me quiet with foil wrapped mints, while Helena occupied me with Irish-isms. We hunkered down for The Seafarer. I was mildly concerned about the theatre’s (surprisingly spacious) alleyway set up. Concerned, because I have a miniature bladder and was on the wrong side of the stage. Which would mean if I had say, a nosebleed I'd have to scurry through a live performance.
Fortunately for me I was distracted from my hypothetical bathroom needs because the play began with a punch. The punch was an avalanche of cuss words that didn’t quit. To quote The Simpsons: "if you're happy and you know it say a swear." Ahh the rascally Irish and their profanity. “For fooks sake.” The banter, swears and attention to detail (authentic Frosties on the decrepit card table) kept me highly amused and I didn't even think about my proximity to the "loo". Initially I was confused by what I thought to be a rather haunting score. That is until the devil himself appeared on stage. Things took a rather grim turn about an hour in - suddenly the music makes perfect sense.
As well as the colorful language and the chill up my spine I was thrilled to see my new favorite South Granville actor oil his way on stage. Andrew Mcnee, who I saw about two weeks ago in The Odd Couple, played the greasy Nicky. In fact there were more than a few similarities between The Odd Couple and The Seafarer besides McNee. Pithy booze infused game of cards with the lads - check. One sided conversation on a phone to the “little lady” - check. Total disregard for the department of sanitation - check.
Overall, The Seafarer had a familiarity to it that was reminiscent of watching our “lads” out for a Friday night at Caffé Barney - except with the threat of fire and brimstone.
The actors dealt with the material in spectacular fashion, driving you from laughter to disgust to despair from moment to moment. John Emmet Tracy who plays Sharky had the Cinderella routine down-pat, catering to the every whim of his brother Richard and friend Ivan who clearly have more than a passing fancy for the drink. The Devil, in the form of Mr Lockhart, instantly recognizable by his expensive coat and good grooming, was played brilliantly by John Innes. Even before he revealed his true nature, it was clear that he was not one of the boys. But in the end, it seems second chances and friends to look out for you can save you from evil. Inhabiters take note.
Disclaimer: I lived in Ireland for 8 1/2 years. So I have a special gra (love) all things Irish.
Regarding the set decoration, a replica of an aging, bachelor's Irish cottage, I have to say they nailed it. Peeling paint, Gaelic Athletic Association Poster, and Sacred Heart of Jesus on the wall. Perfect. Man slumped in a heap on the floor. Takes me back. Before I sat down, I had already been transported.
Like Ženija I too enjoyed the richness of the Irish language employed while under the influence. That's the characters not me. As I chuckled to myself to the annoyance of my seat mates, I remembered fondly times gone by every time the word "fecker" was uttered.
A thoughtful touch to the evening was the crossword provided in the program for the benefit of the audience as a sort of Coles Notes of Irish Slang. Brilliant and I enjoyed acing it the following day with my morning coffee.
The night arrived and not a moment too soon. Personally, professionally and creatively I was feeling battered around like a dingy in a whirlpool. Natch, a play by the name of the "Seafarer" seemed an apt way to close a crap week.
Walking by Pacific Theatre, I had often peered curiously into its depths from the street whenever the stage door was open, however, I had never been inside until Friday night. I was more curious about its size and layout than the play, I must confess.
After a quick and time-honoured pre "THE-a-tah" drink, we arrived, retrieved our tickets and figured out the seating: We crossed the stage to sit in the south part of the theatre and I took a moment to look around me before the show began. For the first time that evening, I stopped moving, relaxed and started to shed the day. Taking in the unique stage and set as the lights dimmed, I began to wonder why I ever stopped acting.
Having been involved with the theatre since grade 6, and seriously contemplating acting as a career since high school, something happened along the way and my name in neon never appeared. For some reason I haven't been to a play in years. So I don't know if it was the nearness of the stage, the lights, the hush, the presence of the audience, but it all came rushing back last night. I gave myself over to the experience.
I think the genius of the seating arrangement at the Pacific Theatre is that as an audience you are subtly forced to take part in the goings ons, whether you realize it or not. The play unfolds as a tight and uncomfortable peephole intrusion into the living room of a beleaguered young man and his motley collection of troubled friends on Christmas Eve. Akin to peering into an eccentric neighbour's window and seeing something ugly but being unable to turn away. The dwelling is simple and cluttered, there is no female presence, it cries out for a hosing down and every character is in some stage of bodily uncleanliness and decrepitude. The conversation and general air is also just as bleak. I squirmed in my seat and took stock of other audience members facial expressions as they watched the story unfold. We all looked like shame-faced school kids, watching the classroom humiliation of a student getting in trouble. I felt like I was witness to a long standing family argument. More than once I picked my cuticles raw. In other words, I remembered how it was to possess that kind of magic - where you forget you are on stage and everyone within view of the floorboards is drawn into your spell.
As the plot became more tense, and the evening wore on, I couldn't help but notice the couple opposite us in the north section of the seating who had clearly mastered the art of the gentle public nod off. My eyes kept drifting over to them. We were all tired and the play was long, and after a long hard week, it's easy to let nature take it's course in a quiet darkened room, but we still should manage to hold ourselves together. Socially speaking, aren't we all actors?
A secret tiny stage, big talent and inspiration, and a wonderful sense of community (not to mention the cupcakes!) was just what my poor soul needed. Exit, stage left. (sorry, George Bernard Shaw).
The Seafarer runs until March 29th. Tickets available from Pacific Theatre Company.