May 20, 2019

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Review: A Thrilling ‘Ferryman’ Serves Up a Glorious Harvest Feast

Review: A Thrilling ‘Ferryman’ Serves Up a Glorious Harvest Feast
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Living under the same roof are his sister-in-law, Caitlin (Laura Donnelly, in a heart-stopping performance that won her the Olivier Award), and her understandably broody adolescent son, Oisin (Rob Malone). Then there’s Quinn’s overgrown, childlike (and English-born) handyman, Tom Kettle (Justin Edwards). And because it is harvest day, their ranks are swelled by three young strapping male relatives, the Corcoran boys.

But wait! I haven’t mentioned the unwelcome visitors who show up at nightfall, casting dark shadows on the glowing Carney homestead: a craven priest, Father Horrigan (Charles Dale), and the courtly, sinister Irish republican kingpin Mr. Muldoon (Stuart Graham) and his henchmen (Dean Ashton and Glenn Speers), whom we have already met in the play’s ominous prologue, set in a graffiti-sprayed back alley in the nearby city of Derry.

As unlikely as it seems, you’ll have no trouble keeping these characters apart. Each bristles with vivid specificity, even those in nonspeaking parts, like the infant Bobby, a feral rabbit and the aforementioned goose. Mr. Butterworth has taken pains to define every one of them, and the cast repays him with performances that blaze unconditionally in the moment.

Of equal importance, this being a play about the Irish, are the living dead, the absent souls who exist not only as scrupulously maintained memories but as catalysts in an increasingly eventful plot. Among them are the late family patriarch, whose black-and-white portrait looms as a benediction and a curse, and his romantically remembered brother, who was killed by British troops during the Easter Rising in Dublin of 1916.

But of most immediate importance is Caitlin’s missing husband, Seamus, whose eerily well-preserved, 10-years-dead body is discovered in a bog shortly before the play begins. The news will shatter the cozy, vigilantly guarded order of the Carney household and drag shadowy deceptions into the harsh light.

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