Not much of either interest or importance happens during the first 45 minutes of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer.

Not much of either interest or importance happens during the first 45 minutes of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer.

James "Sharky" Harkin (Mark Mann), his older brother Richard (Ken Erney) and their nearsighted friend Ivan Curry (Damian Bowerman) each wake from a Christmas Eve eve in which altogether too much alcohol has passed the lips of the latter two. Sharky himself struggles to maintain his new sobriety despite brotherly taunts and friendly temptations.

Richard has recently been rendered blind in a Halloween confrontation with a Dumpster. Ivan has even more recently been rendered virtually blind by losing his eyeglasses in the previous evening's festivities.

Given the legendary amounts of alcohol they consume, one suspects that even the gift of perfect vision would be lost on both of them.

Digging through the accents and feeble laughs of that introductory section, we also learn that a fourth friend, Nicky Giblin (Rick Clark), has become persona non grata by taking up with Sharky's ex-girlfriend. Before long, of course, Nicky arrives with a mysterious stranger introduced as Mr. Lockhart for a Christmas Eve of drinking and cards. This is where the play really begins.

Mr. Lockhart plays not for the Euros scattered around the card table, but for Sharky's soul. Years ago, Sharky was drunkenly responsible for a death but bargained away his soul to Mr. Lockhart in exchange for his freedom. Now Mr. Lockhart is collecting the debt. A natty contrast to his slovenly hosts, Mr. Lockhart is given devilishly cool life by Geoffrey Nelson.

Only Sharky and Mr. Lockhart understand the stakes here, and playwright McPherson uses the same lame excuse several times to leave the two of them alone. Those eager for an epic confrontation between two of Central Ohio's most accomplished actors, however, will be disappointed, because McPherson hasn't written one.

As the play's centerpiece, though, we do get a powerful monologue, delivered by Nelson, about the nature of hell and the loneliness of eternity. The scene is subtly enhanced by Darin Keesing's impressive lighting, which throws the cowering Mann's silhouetted profile up a flight of stairs as he absorbs his foretaste of the abyss.

The Seafarer takes its title from the eighth-century Anglo-Saxon poem in which a sailor recounts the hardships and joys of a life at sea, then offers advice on living a life deserving of heavenly reward. Standing up to the devil is suggested as one of the paths to paradise. No one in McPherson's play stands up to Mr. Lockhart, exactly, and any redemption is merely temporary.

CATCO's Seafarer offers glimpses of theatrical joy in its sprawling performances, but drink ultimately gets the best of devil and playwright alike.