Broadway Review: “The Ferryman” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Broadway Review: “The Ferryman” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (Through Sunday July 7, 2019)
By Jez Butterworth
Directed by Sam Mendes
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

If you are a fan of Irish plays you will most likely recognize the characters and may recall hearing similar stories as you listen and watch the epic family drama “The Ferryman” by Jez Butterworth now playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. That is where the familiarity stops, allowing the brilliant dialogue of Mr. Butterworth and the sagacious, meticulous direction of Sam Mendes to take you on a three hour and fifteen-minute journey through the hearts and minds of the expansive Carney family. The plot is thick with the burdens of politics and religion that are complicated by love, loss and tradition. Except for the prologue, all the action takes place in the expansive kitchen and living area of the Carney family in rural County Armagh, Northern Ireland, late summer in 1981. This punctilious set designed by Rob Howell is authentic, dominated by a soaring staircase that members of this unsettled family might climb, in order to retreat from the agitated activities of everyday life. Mr. Howell’s costumes are never intrusive, only fortifying the ambience of time and place, while also placing another layer on top of the already genuine characters. Punctuate each scene with the atmospheric lighting design of Peter Mumford and you are transported into the suspension of disbelief.

This is a theatrical event that is riveting, filled with monologues that coax laughter from your gut, tease tears from your eyes and reveal secrets that bring the plot closer to the explosive climax. The enormous cast of twenty-one, not counting the infant, the goose and the rabbit, is impeccable as they expose themselves, dissecting their characters until there is nothing more to learn. It is difficult to single out special performances but there are some worthy of mention. Paddy Considine creates a perplexed Quinn Carney with a tapestry of emotions that paint a vivid picture of his psyche. Laura Donnelly brings strength, intelligence and vulnerability to the presence of Caitlin Carney. Wisdom is brought to the dimwitted Tom Kettle by Justin Edwards, who is full of surprises and generosity that comes forth with every beat of his gracious heart. The wise cracking, ornery, and opinionated Aunt Pat is brought to life by Dearbhla Molloy with strong conviction and steadfast persona. Fionnula Flanagan turns Aunt Maggie into a skillful raconteur, as she sporadically awakens to spout stories from the past that entertain the children. Each member of the entire ensemble is remarkable as they stand alone and become even better as they complement each other. Under the fluid direction of Mr. Mendes, the actor’s movements are choreographed in perfect harmony capturing the bucolic life of a rural Irish family.

This is a monumental piece of theater that will stand up to the test of time. It is a thrilling drama of crime and passion that infects a peculiar family which is navigating a contentious, political landscape and struggling to survive. The humor is dark, the sentiment is light, and the suffering runs deep within the characters souls but they never waiver, standing proud and persevering anything that threatens their existence. It is one of the must-see productions of season.