03/17/2014 02:51 EDT | Updated 05/17/2014 05:59 EDT

'The Seafarer' Is A Worthy Ensemble Production

Pacific Theatre

Four working-class buddies and their strange visitor play poker one very long Christmas Eve. Only two of the players know how much is really at stake as the cards are dealt and Euros tossed into the pot. For most players a few dollars may be lost, but for one character much more is at stake. His knowledge, shared by the audience, is the source of this play's exciting drive to an unpredictable conclusion.

"The Seafarer", produced by Pacific Theatre, is a scary comedy set in a working-class Dublin home. Written by Irish playwright Conor McPherson in 2006, the story follows five men through their annual Christmas Eve card game.

The darkness, both literal and metaphorical, provides McPherson's work an undercurrent of menace that eventually breathes ironic meaning into the basic comedy of the main story. Most of the characters, you see, don't have a clue what is really going on between Sharky and the strange visitor. They do not know Sharky's life is at stake.

Sharkey (John Emmet Tracy) is recently unemployed from a chauffeur's job. He lives in a wreck of a house along with his brother Richard (Ron Reed) who is recently blind. They are caring for each other. Reed performs his disabled character with great spirit, an ideal rendering of a character who manages (with good friends and too much alcohol) to ignore his disability and carry on with life. Richard's real insecurities and cruel streak arrive late in the story and Reed delivers this personality shift with a talent that makes the shift plausible and alarming to the audience.

Tracy, as the lead character, is a brooding, disappointed, self-hating mess. Tracy presents Sharky as physically weak and very sad: devastated by life. His voice is quiet with little affect, his reaction to others often a quiet shrug. He just doesn't care about anything anymore. He's trying to stop drinking (an alcoholic now two days dry), and to forget his recent loss of employment and the loss of two lovers: his girlfriend Eileen and his former employer's wife. He does not realize his life is about to get even worse.

One visitor this holiday eve is the brothers' good friend Ivan, played with gregarious energy and hilarious bafflement by Tim Dixon. Ivan is practically blind because he has misplaced his glasses and this element of the character is performed admirably for laughs.

Dixon fumbles around the stage, managing as best he can despite his severe myopia. The theme of sight (including insight), and its absence, recurs frequently throughout the drama and represents McPherson's concern with truth. Themes of sight and blindness, light and dark, good and bad, shame and pride, are woven through the story to create a surprisingly deep and moving drama.

John Innes is outstanding at the stranger at the table. The friendly aristocrat is not as benign as he appears, we soon learn, that's where the story really takes off.

Innes plays Mr. Lockhart in a style that immediately sets him apart from the lower-class characters. His affluence is revealed in his choice of dress (a beautiful beige cashmere coat with silk lining), his quality of speech and his aristocratic manners and carriage. He is polite and deferential to his hosts. To the audience's surprise and horror, Mr. Lockhart turns out to be a menacing, supernatural character who aims to make Sharky his victim. The two last met 25 years earlier in a prison cell where they made an agreement. Sharkey barely recalls the incident, but his life is now in serious jeopardy as a result.

All performances are excellent. Director Anthony F. Ingram has taken five fine actors and created an ensemble performance that may be the best production this season in Vancouver. Ingram directs the play with a touch that allows the comedy to flow and makes shocking the moments of terrible revelations and vicious threats. The long monologues are given special attention, allowing the characters to reveal the inner challenges of their disappointing lives in a fashion that accuses the audience of insensitivity to the pain of others.

"The Seafarer" by Conor McPherson, directed by Anthony F. Igram, at Pacific Theatre, Vancouver, until March 29. Tickets at