Playwright: Conor McPherson. At: Seanachai Theatre Company at The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 866-811-4111; www.seanachai.org; $26-$30. Runs through: Jan. 5
Maybe it's the wedding guest who overhears the bride and the best man preparing to elope, or the pallbearer who foresees a nasty graveside squabble between warring families. Imagine the unease of the sole participant in possession of a secret with the power to destroy everything the occasion symbolizes. What will the unlucky prophet do with his knowledge?
This is the question that generates the tension in Conor McPherson's fable of second chances bestowed through divine intervention. His parable proposes two brothers: Richard Harkin, sightless since suffering a concussion a few months previous, occupies himself with swilling whiskey and haranguing his younger sibling Sharky, a chronic loser like himself, who has sworn off drinking for two days as of this Christmas Eve. Sadsack buddies Ivan and Nicky arrive at the Harkins' shabby home in search of a tipple and a few hands of poker, the latter bringing with him a stranger, who confides to Sharky that tonight marks the anniversary of a debt incurred decades earlierremuneration to be rendered, not in money or even in blood, but in coin far more precious.
Audiences recalling the actor-based Steppenwolf production witnessed complex characters crafted for maximum commercial appeal, but the Seanachai ensemble takes its name from the Gaelic word for storyteller, making director Matt Miller's focus the collective progress of this unlikely band of bunglers whose histories first obstruct, then propel, them on the road to their redemption. The intimate quarters of The Den's front-room mainstage further spotlight the narrative arc by allowing no detail, however small, to go unregistered ( the moment when beer-drinker Nicky switches to the hard stuff, for example, or the struggle of a hungover Ivan, whose eyeglasses have disappeared somewhere in the man-cave detritus, to butter his morning toast. )
The rapport forged by the five cast members' ( Dan Waller, Brad Armacost, Kevin Theis, Ira Amyx and Shane Kenyon ) extensive experience performing together likewise reinforces the interactive dynamics of McPherson's hard-luck revelers ( even during the long scenes devoted solely to the generically spectator-unfriendly business of cardplay ), so that we recognize, almost at the same time as they do, of how their fates are inextricably intertwined. This realization might not make them any more lovableto us, or to each otherbut constitutes reason enough to halt their bickering and unite in defeating the high-stakes gambler who, when he speaks of "going to the hole in the wall," does not mean the sidewalk ATM.