BWW Review: Keegan Theatre's AN IRISH CAROL a fine, Dublin Take on Dickens' Classic
Christmas-it's enough to drive you to drink, it is. Especially for those who face the holidays alone.
Or, worse, alone in a pub with a bartender whose grasp of the language is, let's just say, limited.
Plus his imitation of Little Richard is excruciating (and excruciatingly funny).
Now, it's not exactly clear what fluids sustained the original Ebenezer Scrooge on his late-night tour, but Dublin native Matthew J. Keenan is pretty darned sure what would fuel the old cuss in Ireland today. The beers and the Jamesons flow like water in his seasonal offering, An Irish Carol, a hardened, touching, hilarious tour of a Christmas Eve in a run-down pub in Ireland's capital.
Adams, as the volatile pub owner David, is pitch-perfect with his comic delivery and his show-stopping rants. One minute he swears he'll tear you to pieces, his words as sharp as blades, only to have you laughing your tail off because, after all, his David is just a barker, no bite to speak of these days. The comic timing, particularly for his cranky, monosyllabic retorts to well-wishers, is well worth the ticket.
American audiences used to hard-luck stories of Irish immigrants ("Brooklyn," anyone?) might be surprised to find that in An Irish Carol, the immigrant bartender is Polish. Josh Sticklin does a fine job as Bartek, a seemingly eternal optimist who lives humbly with a wife and young daughter nearby. Early on, it becomes clear that there are only two kinds of people who can stand to be anywhere near his boss: childhood friends who still stop by on occasion for a pint, and Bartek, who despite all odds and all appearances prefers to see the good in David.
A sign of how far the pub's fortunes have fallen comes in the form of one of his former business partners, Simon (Christian Montgomery, balancing the charm and cynicism well). Simon arrives with his fiancée Anna, who as played here by Caroline Dubberly is far from the cloying waifs of old. The pretense of Simon's visit being a social call melts away quickly, as David and Simon square off over the pub's future. In the process, we see that Simon himself has a touch of David's fixation with money; David sees his younger self, in a spectacle that only registers with him slowly, although the audience sees it in an instant.
The reasons for David's bitterness-and hence the many empty seats at his pub-gradually come into view, as his old mates Jim (the gruff, amiable Mark A. Rhea) and Frank (the amiable, professional tippler Timothy H. Lynch) lay out the story of a woman David lost because of his obsession with the business. His loss was (another) business partner Richard's gain, and it is just possible that David has spent the years wondering at what might have been.
This particular Christmas Eve is the anniversary of her death, so David is especially hard hit; and when Richard, now a widower-played here with passion by Daniel Lyons-shows up with a message from beyond the grave (nothing supernatural here, thank goodness), the stage is set for a serious reckoning of accounts. Keenan stages David's conversion wordlessly, from bitter to sweet, and it is as compelling as it is natural; no ghosties, no chains, and (thank goodness) no cavalcade of sappy seasonal hymns to muck things up.
Keenan has doubled as the set designer here, and apparently works from photographic memory with the obligatory busts and portraits hung on the wall (Samuel Beckett's cold stare is hard to miss), ringed around at the top with attic stuff-old instruments, sporting gear, etc.-to give you that indelibly shabby feel that folks get so nostalgic for this time of year. Director Mark A. Rhea (yeah, a lot of double-duty players here) has managed the business of this one-act nicely, making the most of the gradual great reckoning in this cozy room.
As seasonal offerings go, An Irish Carol is perfect for those who love the narrative arc of Dickens' original, and who could use the spiritual uplift, but who are sick to death of Marleys in chains, let alone all those cheery Fezziwigs. Down-to-earth, but with heart, it shines to remind us that there is often decency hiding behind the most gruff of exteriors.
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, with no intermission.
Audience Advisory: Stones in his Pockets features frequent outbursts of profanity, lubricated by pints and shots.