BWW Reviews: AN IRISH CAROL Takes a Stab at the Dickensian Christmas Classic
I feel that Irish-American theater typically goes in one of two ways. The first way, the most typical way, is down a dark, winding path of alcoholism, bitterness and dirty jokes. The other way is lighter, filled with wise-cracking Irish humor and charm, and probably still more drinking than recommended but warm. Of course, this is by no means the rule, but it seems to be a standard especially around Christmas
"An Irish Carol" by Matthew Keenan attempts to bridge that divide. Advertised as being an homage to Charles Dickens's "Christmas Carol," Keenan's play takes place in an Irish pub during a snowstorm. David, played by Kevin Adams, abuses and curses at his employee and his patrons throughout the play in bitter turmoil and despair that extends throughout almost the entire play.
The most thrilling part of this play for me was the mentions of a more current perspective on Irish economics and politics. With the job market struggling and the value of the euro plummeting, the setting for "An Irish Carol" almost perfectly parallels the many poor and destitute that surround Ebeneezer Scrooge in the Dickensian tale.
Yet, I could not help but become detached from the play very quickly. The pacing of the play lags all throughout. I must admit, as an Irish-American who has traveled to Ireland and experienced life there, that the characters in this play were some of the most relaxed Irish men and women I have ever seen.
There was no urgency in this play at all, making it very hard to keep my eyes away from my watch and on the stage. Arguments were slow and dramatic, a quality which is almost unheard of in Irish culture, where fights escalate with quick, glib accusations and beating someone else to the punch-both verbally and physically. The muddy accents, sparing the Polish immigrant played by Josh Sticklin, also made it very hard to believe I was watching a show taking place in Ireland.
This play as a whole, which touches some genuine human problems, failed to play truthfully to the audience.
The occasional glimmer of light did shine, however. Most notable performances were of Jim and Bertek. Jim, played by David Jourdan- if only for the fact that he actually stayed pretty consistently on point with his Irish accent. But he also possessed an Irish charm about him that, even if it was oftentimes conveyed very slowly, resonated and gave at least a small Irish flair to this piece. Sticklin played Bertek, the Polish immigrant and bartender of David's pub, who served as the reprieve to awkward timing and pacing throughout the play by being generally clueless and charming.
Irish charm would not matter if the play itself held any sort of support on its own. Yet it was a play where almost nothing happens except talking on the stage. Claiming that this play is anything like the "Christmas Carol" aside from the character archetypes seems a little far-fetched. Even the big life changing moment for David, which brings him reconciliation with his past and a brighter future, happens in a way that the audience can not experience his agony alongside him. What is the purpose of theater if we cannot understand, witness or somehow experience the suffering that the characters face?
I really wanted to like this play. Create anything utilizing Irish culture or an Irish theme and I tend to jump at the bait to go. The culture is a particular, and personal, interest of mine. I believe this play full of unrealized potential. It seemed lazily put together technically, with very few light and awkward sound cues that only highlighted the mediocrity of the set, story and direction of this play. If only it was directed so that this potential would radiate the purpose that an homage to "A Christmas Carol" has the ability to do.
Photo Credit: courtesy of Keegan Theater