If you're seeking innovation in the theater, look elsewhere. Conor McPherson's Irish yarn is a chip off the stock-block of Celtic folklore storytelling, bullshitting, scatological jokes, card playing and a visit by somebody from the metaphysical realm, which raises the not-trivial question: What on Earth are we doing with our time? Thanks to a quintet of sharp-as-they-come performances, under Randall Arney's carefully calibrated production, the event holds up. McPherson's drama isn't as menacing as in New York; Arney gives it a lighter touch, which reveals some of its holes but also skirts around both melodrama and glibness. This is a starkly moral universe, filled with causes and consequences, where somebody named Mr. Lockhart (Tom Irwin, and a spit-and-polished suit) determined to collect an old debt visits the North Dublin home-tavern of Sharky (Andrew Connolly) and his disabled brother, Richard (John Mahoney) who blinded himself while scavenging in a trash canister. The drama slowly pivots on a poker game, with life-and-death stakes as the men, including denizens Ivan (Paul Vincent O'Connor) and Nickly Giblin (Matt Roth) who's the new husband of Sharky's ex-wife try to bluff their way through the night, which is really the larger allegory for existence. Imagine Harold Pinter having rewritten Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in an Irish brogue. Arney's gentle production can't mask or provide irony for the sentimental resolution, but the strength of his interpretation derives from the silent, brooding power of Connolly's victimized Sharky, and the perverse indulgences of Sharky's blind brother, played by Mahoney with a gleeful grittiness that renders him a weird blend of whining matron and the power broker of the house. The marvelous, tawdry details of Takeshi Kata's set have little congruence with the actors' perfect teeth one tiny reminder of how difficult it is to leave Hollywood on our stages, despite theater's magic. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through May 24. (310) 208-5454.
Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: April 22. Continues through May 24, 2009
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