Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
It is almost Christmas, a bleak time for some, often igniting inner demons. In Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol, John is a middle-aged Dublin assistant undertaker who confronts his adversaries, coming face to face with the past years and relationships he has destroyed with bottles of whiskey.
Jeremy Bean (Bells Are Ringing) evokes a powerful portrait of John, a garrulous man with weaknesses, regrets and losses. To escape his self-hatred and eventual loneliness, he turns to drink, justifying it as his only relief. He always returns to the point of desperation, again reaching for his stashes of Jameson to begin the cycle again.
Director Ciarán O’Reilly (The Weir) keeps a smooth flow in the 90-minute play, beginning as John and his young assistant, Mark, return to the office of the funeral parlor to wait for the burial. John has obviously made some effort for Christmas with touches of colored lights, fake wreaths and an Advent calendar that all result in an even more dreary look.
Severe alcoholism is something playwright Color McPherson knows about. He admits to have been an alcoholic when he was in his late 20’s, despite success with plays like The Weir and Seafarer. At one point, McPherson collapsed and spent months in the hospital. Fortunately, unlike his character, McPherson put whiskey aside.
About drama and conflict, he said, “I find that there’s enough conflict in one person to make a whole play -- all those swings, the oscillation in the mind, the self-doubt, the uncertainty, the stupid courage, the terrible feelings of inadequacy -- that’s more than enough.”
These words reflect John. He is a Dublin undertaker, an assistant to the funeral parlor owner, Noel, who had given him the job and took care of him years ago when John was at a low point. Today, John has a young assistant, Mark (Cillian Hegarty in his off-Broadway debut), learning the funeral business but his mind is on other things, like his girlfriend. Putting on the tea kettle, John admits to Mark that much of his life was wasted by alcohol. He insists he has cut much of it out and offers the young man a cup of tea, adding a wee nip of whiskey to both cups.
Mark is polite enough but his mind is on other matters and he’s not really interested in John or even the funeral business. He is anxious to get on his way and make things better with his girlfriend. After he leaves, John turns back to his hidden bottles, loathing himself and his indulgence.
After Mark left, John’s long-estranged daughter, Mary, played by Sarah Street (Juno and the Paycock), appears at the door to reminds him of the pain he inflicted on his family and on himself. As the bitter daughter, Mary looks pale and drawn tightly into herself. She tells him that her mother is dying and she urges John to visit. Mary promising to return later in the afternoon to pick him up and take him to the hospital. Half-heartedly, he agrees to go. We know better although he insists his drinking days are over, knowing that is untrue.
“I’m sorry about the whole stinking business. I think about it now and I want to puke. I wish I’d never been born.” Since he always has a furtive eye on the liquor cabinet, you can be sure that John will pouring a cuppa, not of tea but of whiskey.
Charlie Corcoran’s set is drab in every way, fitting John's failed life . Michael Gottlieb’s lighting and the skimpy Christmas lights only emphasize the dreariness. Leon Dobkowksi’s costumes for John, Mark and Mary reflect that of working class people moving through the city on a bleak wintery day.
The drama of John’s constant struggle is poignant and plodding. As much as we may wish him peace, there is little doubt that he will find it.
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 - West 22th Street. NYC
Previews: Sept.19, 2019. Opening: Oct. 15, 2019. Closing: Nov. 8, 2019
Running Time: One hour, 20 min. No intermission.
Cast: Jeffrey Bean, Cillian Hegarty, and Sarah Street
Playwright: Conor McPherson
Directed: Ciarán O’Reilly
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors, October 2019
This review also appears in TotalTheater.com