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BWW Review: AN IRISH CAROL On Demand from Keegan Theatre

Tenth anniversary of strong production seen from a distance

BWW Review: AN IRISH CAROL On Demand from Keegan Theatre

When the Keegan Theatre was imagining the 10th anniversary performance of its annual Christmas original The Irish Carol, it was probably never like this - available only by streaming online, the theater closed due to the ongoing pandemic shutdown.

Still, the 2020 version reunites the premiere cast in their original roles (other actors have been in and out; a few of the guys at the bar have switched around over the years).

As ever presiding over An Irish Carol like a misanthropic cloud is the brooding Kevin Adams, as a Scrooge-like bar owner, who barks at customers and employees alike in a Dublin pub.

This Carol, written by Irish-born Matthew J. Keenan, a longtime company member, contains the tone and general themes of Charles Dickens' more famous Christmas tale, but none of the same specifics. And no ghosts, unless you count a long lost love who died a year ago Christmas Eve.

Mostly, Adams' cranky Mike complains about customers and the lack of them, as well as disdaining the yuppies who'd try to buy out the joint. Even on Christmas Eve, he growls at the scattered regulars and newcomers who come in from a snowstorm outside.

Among them are a Santa-hat wearing barfly (Thomas Hayes Lynch), a barroom storyteller and referee (David Jourdan), a brother (Mike Kozemchak) who endures a cold shoulder, and a former friend (Mick Tinder in a crucial role) who seeks to bury the hatchet.

A couple (Susan Marie Rhea and Jon Townson) comes in with a business proposal that divides them. And an Eastern European bartender (Josh Sticklin) takes the brunt of management's harsh and arbitrary policies (working Christmas Day!).

I was kind of knocked out a couple of years ago the first time I saw it, with all of its colorful but realistic cusswords, on the actual Keegan stage (with Keenan's own set design). Why hadn't this tough, effective drama been picked up and played all over the country in the intervening decade, in place of the increasingly sentimentalized and overplayed Carol we all know?

On stage, under Mark A. Rhea's direction, the grouping was able to create a kind of intimacy and emotional bond with each other and the audience - that special, once normal connection that occurred between humans in theaters and in barrooms.

Unfortunately, the "on demand" video version of An Irish Carol does it a great disservice. Like it or not, the streaming versions of theatrical productions are essentially films and demand a bit more creativity and technical finesse than simply turning on a camera.

The 2020 version has an awful lot of wide shots of the entire stage - the way an audience member would see it in the sixth row center. It cuts to two-shots between pairs of characters at times but there are no closeups whatsoever. The sound is even more clumsy - just an ambient room microphone apparently. The characters aren't specially miked, and sound comes off boomy in the empty theater space. Worse, every one walking across the wooden stage creates an off-putting clomping so loud it almost echoes.

In such a format, much of the nuance and fragile emotion laid naked on stage, or carefully hidden due to injury, is diminished if not lost altogether.

Adams' transformation, understandable on stage, seems more perfunctory on video. Lynch's goofball character loses his underlying pathos; the rift in the couple seems less monumental. Sticklin has a tougher time breaking free from his immigrant stereotypes, mangling Irish phrases, in order to show the bigger picture that guides him.

There is something to be said to gathering the talented original cast together for the 10th year of the still-strong production. But one hopes Keegan tries the reunion again next year, when with any luck at all the artists and their audience will be able to gather in person to help make it really come alive again as in past years.

Running time: About 90 minutes, no intermission.

Photo credit: Kevin Adams in An Irish Carol at Keegan Theatre. Photo by Mike Kozemchak.

An Irish Carol runs on demand through Dec. 31 through the Keegan Theatre where a link can be purchased online.

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From This Author Roger Catlin