Monday, October 22, 2018

Review - The Ferryman

I don't know how it happened, but for the very first time in my blogging life, I was offered press tickets for a Broadway show (I have been offered tickets to off- and off-off-Broadway shows before).  I was happy and grateful to accept them (and take a darling handsome friend!) because they were for a show I was dying to see - Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman.  I believe I've mentioned before how much I adored his play Jerusalem (I was less keen on The River, but it was still enjoyable); once I heard The Ferryman was another three-plus hour epic, I was hopeful I would be in for another night as fantastic as the night I saw Jerusalem.  So as not to bury the lede, I will say...I WAS.  I thought The Ferryman was fantastic.  I was so profoundly moved by it that I may find it hard to put words to paper.  I could barely speak when it was over and my heart was just racing.  I love when that happens.  I should also mention that our seats were INCREDIBLE.  So, thank you, generous giver of press tickets!

Being me, I again stayed away from publicity before seeing the show, because I wanted to experience it in real time with no expectations (other than that I wanted to love it).  All I knew was that the show was a big epic, with over 20 characters on stage (and live rabbits and a live goose).  I am glad, however, I read the tiny time/place box in the Playbill, so I would at least know where and when the action was taking place (Northern Ireland, 1981, a time and a place I sadly know little about).  We begin the show with a brief, ominous prologue featuring a priest and a few shadowy figures, then the action moves into a sprawling farmhouse where we meet three generations of the Carney family.  The three-plus hours I spent in their company simply flew by. I'll try not to tread in spoilers as I describe what I saw. 

photo credit: Joan Marcus
Where Jerusalem was mythic and almost otherworldly, The Ferryman is more realistic, almost everyday, yet vital.  Everyone, including the children, is foul-mouthed, deeply humane, and three-dimensional; I fell in love with each and every one.  Well, ok, not with the villains of the piece, but they were also expertly drawn and performed.  The play takes place ten years after Seamus Carney disappeared - his body has been found (and discussed in the prologue) and the action of the show is what happens after his widow and the rest of his family discover the truth.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
Everything is not what it seems in The Ferryman - Quinn Carney (Seamus' brother) seems to be a jolly fun-loving father-figure, but he's incredibly more complex and turns out to have many secrets, from his wife, his family, and even himself.  The family is preparing for the harvest, and yet they seem to be waiting for something, as well.  At least that's how it felt to me, though that could've been the function of the ominous prologue; I was waiting for something, too.  I found the play to be totally compelling, completely unexpected, and thrillingly heartstopping.  I was enjoying the lived-in quality of the story and felt as if I was just watching lives unfurl naturally onstage, with incredibly realistic dialogue, when suddenly I was thrust into a dark and dangerous place that made complete and total sense after I thought about it.  But when the ending happened?  I was totally thrown off-kilter.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
The acting company was superlative, really, each and every one was fantastic.  The kids were simply amazing - even the infant carried onstage now and again had amazing stage presence!  It was a thrill for me to see Fionnula Flanagan onstage - I've admired her tv and film work for years and she is just magic in this show.  Her monologue in the second act is worth the price of admission and she is so real, I could feel her terror of the banshees myself.  I just can't say enough about how the writing and the acting and the directing worked together to create theatrical magic.  There were scenes of raucous humor, and also scenes of deep pain and humanity.  I laughed and cried a lot and had my heart broken several times.  You all know how much I love a big, messy play and The Ferryman certainly applies, though it's perhaps not really messy as much as crowded.  I actually want to go back to see it again and take a closer look at the play's construction, to see how the clues are given and how the structure is set to get to the devastating finale.   It was shocking to me who actually set the ending of the play in motion (and seriously, there's a scene near the end that's as scary as anything I've ever seen and it didn't even have any actual violence in it), but again, as I think back, it wasn't shocking at all.  And seeing this show after seeing What the Constitution Means to Me the night before just emphasized what toxic masculinity is doing to our world (even the world of 1981).

There's so much I could say about The Ferryman, but I really want you to experience it the way I did - with an open heart and mind - and let it draw you in, because it will.  Honestly, you won't notice the three-plus hour run time because every character and every situation and every piece of dialogue is so rich and absorbing, you'll be on the edge of your seat throughout.  GO.

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