In the great Irish tradition of vivid story-telling comes "The Ferryman." Jez Butterworth's richly stocked play, set in Northern Ireland during the bitter IRA troubles, is a gorgeous sprawling yarn that encompasses the entire spectrum of human existence: Life and death, love and hatred, compassion and violence.

It's 1981. Quinn Carney is a married farmer with seven children and a bunch of relatives all living under one roof. When we first meet, they are the picture of an idyllic rural family. Happy and hardworking for the most part, they all seem to get along quite comfortably. Even cranky Aunt Pat has a respected place in their hearts. But a prologue earlier on signals something sinister is afoot, and indeed the story takes its sweet time before the festering seeds take root.

At 3 hours and 15 minutes, the heavily plotted saga may seem long, but on Robb Howell's wonderfully evocative farmhouse setting, the story is so engrossing, the characters so engaging, and the suspense so foreboding, you'll be left wanting more.

The production, helmed brilliantly by Sam Mendes, unfolds like a beloved novel, introducing lots of curious threads that eventually tie together in a giant climactic knot.

The large company of nearly two dozen speaking roles includes young children and even some animals. And while the story is at first rather confusing with that thick brogue, each member of this splendid ensemble delivers finely crafted performances. Trust me, the fog clears awfully fast.

Even the little girls with their feisty tongues are most impressive. Fionnula Flanagan as Aunt Maggie Far-Away, as she's called, and Dearbhla Molloy's sour Aunt Pat, are both sublime. And very special mention to Justin Edwards as the gentle giant, Tom Kettle.

In the two leads, Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly display a tremendous emotional range, impressively veering from comic banter to the depths of tragedy.

Watching the play, you may be reminded of other great works, from "August Osage's" animated family to "The Crucible's" moral conundrum and even a little "Of Mice and Men" but "The Ferryman" stands out as a classic all on its own!