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“They’re Here”: A Review of Jez Butterworth’s “The Ferryman”

by TAYLOR BRETHAUERSenior Writer

If you know me, you know how much I love theatre. So when I was offered tickets to the new play “The Ferryman,” which I had heard from many colleagues was well worth seeing, I jumped at the opportunity.

“The Ferryman” is a play by Jez Butterworth about a family living in 1980 Ireland during the uprising of the provisional Irish Republican party and its attempt to end British rule throughout Ireland. With threats of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and fatal hunger strikes looming in the back of everyone’s minds, the Carney family is simply enjoying another harvest coming around.

The Carneys, who reside in an eclectic farmhouse, are a large family comprising of seven children, one cousin, one sister-in-law, two great aunts (one lovingly named Aunt Maggie Far Away, a senile woman who “comes to” with haunting stories), and one great uncle and the occasional visit from Englishman and groundskeeper Tom Kettle. An unexpected set of visitors with life-changing news create extreme tension that continues to add on up to the last second of the play.

This is not a plot I would want to give away to any reader because to give away key points of the story would give away the magic of this absolutely marvelous production. But let me just say that the entire cast whether they’re a Carney or not, is a delight to watch and never once do they falter or provide confusion to such an airtight script.

Let’s instead, talk about the beautiful visuals. A play, after all, is not only a treat to the ear but also the eye.

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“The Ferryman” is playing until July 7. TAYLOR BRETHAUER/ THE QUADRANGLE

The set is, in theory, fairly simple: the kitchen of the farmhouse, with doorways leading to different rooms and the outside. But the right side of the stage is flanked by a large staircase that leads to what the audience can imagine is the upstairs.

But why is this set, designed by Rob Howell, so moving? It is where the entirety of story takes place, besides a prologue set against a back alley. When that wall pulls up and reveals Quinn Carney, portrayed by three-time Tony Award-nominee Brian d’Arcy James, dancing to some classic ‘80s rock and roll, my breath was taken away at the beautiful simplicity and authentic set design.

This momentum was continued by the lighting, designed by Peter Mumford, that made you really feel like just outside the windows was the morning light on the farm. Even the simple blackouts at the end of the three acts were the kind that made my heart skip a beat and helped me fully understand the exposition of the story that had taken place.

There were many more variables of this show that should definitely be touched upon, like costuming for all of the characters that depicted genuine late 1980s, early 1990s fashion, especially with the children. At one point, Shena Carney, the 14-year old daughter, comes downstairs in leg warmers and a satin parachute jacket.

There were also wonderful appearances made by live animals like bunnies and a real goose (who did not stop honking his entire scene and yes, has his own Instagram account @a_star_is_hatched) that had the audience in stitches.

These seemingly simple things to the casual theater-goer are smartly-picked details to bring this play together in such a successful way.

I’m pretty easy to please in terms of productions because every moment to me is magic. But as the reviews and accolades from the original production in London have shown (Best New Play at the Olivier Awards, which is a big deal), maybe there is a Tony Award in sight for this one as well?

I want to say thank you to Heidi Giovine for allowing me to experience this amazing production. I highly encourage anyone to go witness this amazing feat of heart-wrenching theatre.

“The Ferryman” is currently playing at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre on W. 45th St in Manhattan now until July 7.

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