Story: Dubliner Sharky has hit a rough patch at Christmas. He's lost his job as a chauffeur to a well-to-do couple, plus he's taken in his wastrel brother Richard, who was blinded in an accident on Halloween. Richard is best at sniping at his younger brother while consuming the liquor that Sharky has avowed to avoid during the holidays. Their drinking buddy Ivan is working off a hangover while looking for his missing pair of glasses, and all too easily joins Richard in downing whatever's handy.

After finally leaving, Ivan shows up again later in the day after his wife has thrown him out of the house. Sharky is further annoyed when Richard tells him that he's invited his pal Nicky, who now lives with Sharky's ex-girlfriend Eileen, to play poker with the lads on Christmas Eve. To Sharky's consternation, Nicky arrives with a dapper gentleman named Mr. Lockhart. When Richard, Ivan and Nicky temporarily leave the house to roust some bums from the front yard, Lockhart reminds Sharky that they met once before, exactly 25 years ago in a jailhouse where Lockhart helped Sharky out of a jam after the latter had killed a man in a drunken brawl. Now, says Lockhart, he's back to collect what Sharky owes him, and it's a very steep price, indeed.

Highlights: Noted Irish playwright Conor McPherson is known for intriguing tales that combine a supernatural element with the raw, naturalistic tenor of his dialogue. His characters have a gritty simplicity, eking out their existence with a crude bravado that speaks to their survival instincts. This two-act drama, which premiered in London's West End in 2006 and on Broadway in 2007, is a case study in the excesses of McPherson's often sordid characters. As such, it's given a rich and rewarding interpretation by director Steve Callahan and his splendid quintet of players in the current West End Players Guild presentation.

Other Info: Mark Wilson literally sets the stage for this ragtag collection of misfits with a tawdry scenic design of Sharky's living room that blends an unkempt, squalid abode with the requisite picture of Jesus and some family photos prominently displayed amidst the clutter. Colleen Heneghan's costuming is exquisitely and appropriately filthy for Richard and Ivan, middle-class casual for Sharky and Nicky and a spiffy, classy suit for the debonair Mr. Lockhart. Renee Sevier-Monsey provides the lighting, especially noteworthy for the unseen upstairs, while Callahan's sound design adds a foreboding touch with some mighty winds that mysteriously come and go.

The shabby souls who inherit McPherson's forlorn world are portrayed in convincing fashion by the cast, even if their Irish accents (with the exception of outsider Lockhart) seem to belie any consistency that dialect consultant Jerry Moloney may have provided. Matt Hanify shows us the brooding dissatisfaction that chafes at Sharky even as he valiantly tries to ward off his alcoholic tendencies, while Robert Ashton delivers every line of Richard's twisted ruminations with relish and an ironic and impervious aplomb.

Charles Huevelman brings a fine touch to Ivan's jovial if weak nature, a good old Irishman who's never grown up and doubtless never will, even as he bemoans the way he treats his family. John Reidy doesn't seem the sinister bloke we're led to believe Nicky to be before he arrives, but instead is a hail-fellow-well-met type who is just as willing to swill a pint as get home to Eileen for Christmas. Barry Hyatt completes the cast as the urbane and secretive Mr. Lockhart, who puzzles the other poker players with his seeming lack of interest in the pot, while shooting icy stares at Sharky for the more substantive, and permanent, lucre he craves.

Callahan paces the show with a sure and steady hand, eliciting compelling performances by all the players while suitably depicting the depressing circumstances that define the lives of the four local lads. ‘Tis a shabby Christmas celebration, to be sure, but one that will keep you engaged throughout with its dark humor and other-worldly reach.

Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of John Lamb

Play: The Seafarer

Group: West End Players Guild

Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.

Dates: January 13, 14, 15

Tickets: $20; contact 367-0025 or