Dublin Carol, Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s (Girl from the North Country, The Night Alive) chamber play from 2000, seen at the Atlantic in 2003 starring Jim Norton, is now getting a quality revival at the Irish Rep. The play reminds me of how going to the theatre almost daily can expose similar subjects or images in several works within a very short space of time.
|Cillian Hegerty, Jeffrey Bean. All photos: Carol Rosegg.|
The substance abused in Dublin Carol, like The White Chip, is alcohol, and the abuser is John Plunkett (Jeffrey Bean), a painfully lonely, middle-aged, Dublin undertaker. Set entirely on Christmas Eve, 1999, it’s located in a funeral home’s office, designed by Charlie Corcoran, its drearily paneled walls decorated with casual, seasonal reminders: a string of colored lights, an Advent calendar, a tiny, artificial tree.
|Jeffrey Bean, Cillian Hegerty.|
Slowly, as John, surely desperate for a friendly ear, chats up a new employee, Mark (Cillian Hegerty), suggesting the Ghost of Christmas Future, we learn what they do for a living. We discover as well how indebted John is for his job to Mark’s uncle, Noel, their kind, hospitalized boss. Also gradually exposed is John’s bibulousness, which comes fully into focus in the second of the intermissionless, 90-minute play’s three parts. In that part, taking place later in the day, John, is visited by Mary (Sarah Street), his downbeat daughter, like a Ghost of Christmas Past, whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years.
|Sarah Street, Jeffrey Bean.|
John, learning from Mary that her mother—his wife, Helen, from whom he’s been separated for many years—is dying of cancer, reluctantly agrees to pay her a final visit at the hospital, although he’s hesitant about handling her funeral. Father and daughter recall the past, mentioning John’s alienated son, Paul, a motorbike repairman living in England. The emphasis is on John’s failure as a dad and husband because of his incessant pub crawling and fall-down drunkenness. Much of John’s pathology, his deceptions and rationales, resemble those of Steven in The White Chip.
In the third part, John, waiting for Mary’s return, and dreading his marital reunion, is already in his cups when Mark arrives. Mark recounts the reaction of his girlfriend to his having just ended their relationship, which he’s starting to regret. As the men toss a few back, John advises Mark that he’s better off without her, for some reason guiltily recounting an adulterous love affair he had with Carol, a widow he bedded more because she paid for his booze than because he loved her. Mark, angry at this bit of “wisdom,” is stopped from leaving when John discloses his wife’s condition.
As the pair gather up the ornaments, John offers a clinically horrific description of an alcoholic’s hangover. It helps make Dublin Carol what would be a perfect match for The White Chip in an AA repertory of contemporary temperance dramas. At the end, of course, this being a Christmas drama with people named Noel, John, Mary, Paul, and Mark, a hint of redemption hangs in the air.
Essentially plotless, Dublin Carol is a garrulous character study about the ravages of spirits (alcoholic, psychological, and Dickensian), redeemed by McPherson’s Irish-colored prose and the realistically nuanced performances of its actors, smoothly directed by Ciarán O’Reilly. Bean is a convincingly self-flagellating souse, but, without much of a dramatic goal to fight for, there’s little about the man to make him notably different from countless other woozy, puking, remorseful stage drunks.
I can almost imagine Dublin Carol being relocated to a pub where you must fight the urge to flee while listening to the outpourings of a barely sympathetic barfly going on about what brought him to this pass. And isn’t that what AA is for?
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd St., NYC
Through November 10