You know how it goes when you put a couple of brothers together and add a few friends, a game of poker and a bottle of booze. The combination has trouble written all over it.

That’s the background of the Conor McPherson play “The Seafarer,” which opens the seventh season of the American Irish Repertory Ensemble tonight. The dark comedy runs through Nov. 13 at the studio theater at Portland Stage Company.

Do we even need to warn you that the play contains mature language?

“It’s scathingly funny, full of lots of rude humor and also lots of heart,” said Susan Reilly, AIRE’s managing director. “That is the signature of what AIRE does — lots of humor and lots of heart.”

The ensemble piece features a cast of five experienced actors: AIRE veterans Paul Haley and Tony Reilly; Portland Stage regular Mark Honan; Craig Ela, who is best known for his work with the Theater Project in Brunswick; and Corey Gagne, a Shakespearean actor associated with Westbrook-based Acorn Productions.

Dan Burson directs the cast. He worked with AIRE on “Lonesome West” in 2008, and has directed for Portland Stage, the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor and the Freeport Players. In this production, he is most interested in bringing out the individual character of what he calls these “flawed and messy people.”

McPherson wrote the play in 2006. It opened in London that fall, and won an Olivier Award nomination for best play. It came to Broadway in late 2007 and ran through spring 2008, winning several Tony Award nominations, including Best Play.

“The Seafarer” takes it name from an Old English elegy about endurance, suffering, loneliness and yearning.

The setting is the living room of two brothers, Sharky and Richard. Sharky is a former fisherman with a violent past. Richard is an angry man, and rightly so: he recently blinded himself after hitting his head while dumpster diving.

It’s Christmas Eve, and the brothers are at home in their Dublin suburb. They settle in for a cozy evening of holiday bliss when they are joined by Ivan, a hard-drinking buddy; Nicky, who is dating Sharky’s ex-wife; and his new friend, Mr. Lockhart, whom Nicky met while making the rounds of local pubs.

“These are not model citizens by any shape or form,” Reilly says. “These guys drink a lot, none has a steady job and they’re certainly not successful in relationships. But they take care of each other, and it’s that love that saves them.

“Ultimately, this play is about family.”

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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