'The Ferryman' arrives in its outside-of-Broadway debut at NVA
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, Feb. 12
A play with three Olivier and four Tony wins is bound to catch a lot of attention when making its first outside-of-Broadway debut. Capturing those hard-sought rights is New Village Arts. Its newly renovated theatre space is offering seatings of the three and a half hour production, Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, through Mar. 5.
The play, set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles (Northern Ireland Conflict), follows the extended Carney family over the course of a day as they navigate the annual harvest event and the discovery of brother/husband/father Seamus’ corpse, which has been found in a peat bog with a bullet through his head.
With a large cast of 21 actors, it takes a little bit of time to meet the entire family: there’s patriarch Quinn (Thomas Edward Daugherty), his wife, Mary (Kym Pappas), their seven children (Nick Daugherty, Ben McLaren, Juliana Scheding, Priya Richard, Lucy Zavalterro, Lena Palke, and infant Snow Elizabeth White), Seamus’ widow Caitlin (Joy Yvonne Jones), her son Oisin (Giovanny Diaz de Leon), two great aunts and great uncle (Dagmar Fields, Grace Delaney, and Antonio TJ Johnson), three Corcoran cousins (Layth Haddad, Levani Korganashvili, and Bugz Baltzer), a neurodivergent neighbor (Dallas McLaughlin), family priest (Daren Scott), IRA headman Muldoon with two henchmen (Max Macke, Kyle Ryan, and Jacob James), and a goose and live bunny. It’s a full house.
The production has a few standouts. Daugherty as Quinn portrays the complex conflicts of his role and manages the large amount of time onstage with outstanding consistency to both his accent and his mannerisms. Similarly, Haddad’s Shane Corcoran and Diaz de Leon’s Oisin are exceptionally believable as impulsive young people eager to make their mark on the world. Fields as (Great) Aunt Maggie does a lovely job of meandering through lucid moments and back into “the away.”
Another beautiful layer of this production is the scenic design by Doug Cumming. The entire play, save the initial exposition scene in an alleyway, takes place in the rural Carney farmhouse. There are 14 members in the Carney family, most of whom presumably sleep upstairs on the second floor. Downstairs, above a flagstone stage, we see children’s art, a rocking cradle tucked underneath a staircase, a small kitchen and dining room combo with fridge, stove, oven, and working sink, and a mudroom leading to a porch that can be seen through the kitchen window. The use of this mudroom to shepherd upcoming plot events is brilliant, and director Kristianne Kurner makes good use of the stage and the wide variety of props that are used.
While the banter, dialogue, and plot events are timed well (and I was impressed by the tightness of the clear-the-table-in-order-to-dance scene), some maladroit plot devices and archetypes fall a bit flat. The playwright, possibly in his attempt to generate a Homeric feel, has toppled into the trap of leaning into lengthy monologues and mythology.
Furthermore, this show is a marathon, demanding a lot of its performers (and its audience). Asking anyone to affect an accent for over three hours is a tall order, but the inconsistencies to pronunciations of the same words across members of the same family become distracting in this context.
Ultimately, I left torn, feeling that Butterworth’s script would be as effective with half as many characters and words, but also that the team staging this production had done a good job overall with a difficult piece. It’s certainly a piece of art, as long as one is prepared for it to also be part history lesson, part fae folklore, and part literary seminar as well.
The Ferryman runs through Mar. 5 at New Village Arts.