The astounding realism of the performance dissipates only with the appearance of Ken Clement, Lord Satan himself, whose arrival onstage is heralded by the smell of sulfur. He is monstrously merry, all thunderous belly laughs and grins so big they could swallow you. His joviality seems boundless, until he is left alone for a moment with his quarry (whose name I won't give away). Clement stares him down over the poker table, and his grin is suddenly frozen and awful, like a primitive tribe's carving of a cannibal god. His face reddens, then purples, and I suddenly realize that affable, Scotch-swilling Clement, with whom I have exchanged a dozen friendly post-show handshakes, is the scariest person I've ever seen. The visage couldn't have been any more frightening if his eyes had burst into flames — which, for a moment, I expected them to do.
I do not believe that McPherson wrote The Seafarer to bring about any particularly Christian feeling in his audience. Rather, I think McPherson — who is no stranger to alcoholic depression — wanted to say something about the power of guilt and how it can transform even the most innocuous, loving moment into a setting for pure surrealist terror. See this show, watch that look of Clement's, and then listen to his long, poetic description of what hell is really like. After you do, you will watch the ensuing hand of poker very nervously, and even the secular may find themselves praying for the intervention of grace.
Ken Clement: The devil takes a drink.
The Seafarer, written by Conor McPherson. Directed by Richard Jay Simon. With Ken Clement, Dennis Creaghan, John Felix, Christian Rockwell, and Gregg Weiner. Presented through December 14 at the Mosaic Theatre, 12200 W. Broward Blvd., Plantation. Call 954-577-8243, or visit www.mosaictheatre.com.