You think the holidays are hellish?
Well, in acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer” – currently in a production by the Seanachai Theatre Company at the The Den Theatre from Nov. 30 through Jan. 5 – they sort of are.
Set on Christmas Eve in a grubby part of Dublin, the play centers on a pair of bumbling brothers and their drinking buddies, who are all set for a friendly game of cards, when one of them brings along a stranger. It turns the stranger is there for a reason – to collect a debt owed by one of the hosts.
Kevin Theis plays the stranger. No, not the Billy Joel song from the 70s, but Mr. Lockhart, a smooth operator who seems out of place among the lost souls. Well, actually it’s a soul he’s after, for the dapper Dan is a devilish sort. Literally.
So Theis gets to play this Mephistophiles, the real deal when it comes to evil.
“I had a breakthrough in rehearsal the other day. For awhile, I was trying to be all cool, creepy and devily,” Theis said.
Instead, Theis played the character as charming, nice, and likable, until you cross him.
“That’s the last thing you’ll ever do,” Theis said.
Theis said that when playing an inherently evil being, you just let things happen until the character lets his true self out, which he can’t help doing. There’s a power to stillness when playing evil, too, where a look very well might kill, and where an outburst seems all the more violent when it seeming comes out of nowhere.
Of course, the devil being the devil, you don’t recognize him until it’s pretty much too late, Theis said. And in this case you don’t recognize him because he’s borrowing a human body, which Theis said means he doesn’t play the devil, but plays the man.
Another thing about the devil, according to Theis: he knows he’s not a great guy, as opposed to just plain evil people such as Hitler – or maybe even Donald Trump – who think they are doing the right thing.
Still, there are rules for being this satan – he can’t cheat at cards. And the work is written as such that only two people – Mr. Lockhart and Sharky, whose soul he wants – know the true stakes of the game.
Theis said what’s fun about being in a McPherson play is that he writes with a clarity of character, each distinctly different, each fascinating and funny.
“He’s a deceptively amazing playwright,” Theis said.
The play is such that Theis compared being in it to performing in a jazz ensemble with each performer getting a chance to have a solo spot, with those solos fitting into the themes of the show.
While his own lineage is half-German and half-Irish, he said that has been no advantage when readying for the role. As for the Dub accent, it’s an easier one to learn and do, than, say a character from Donegal.
Theis previously appeared in a Seanachai production of McPherson’s “The Weir” which also was directed by Matt Miller and featured Brad Armacost in a leading role, as is the case this time.
“The ensemble is extraordinary, and you step up your game working with them,” Theis said.
“This is a creepily wonderful Christmas show.”
The Seanachai production of “The Seafarer” opens Saturday, Nov. 30 and runs through Sunday, Jan. 5 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $26 Thursdays & Fridays, $30 Saturdays & Sundays. Seniors/students $5 off.
Tickets are available at visit www.seanachai.org or by calling (866) 811-4111. Group discounts (8 or more) are available by calling (773) 878-3727.