Two men wearing black suits, white shirts, and black and gray striped ties enter one after another into a musty room, and within minutes of their conversation the pertinent details of Dublin Carol are imparted. Acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson again demonstrates his supreme command of dramatic writing with this wistful character study comprised of three scenes connoting morning, afternoon and late afternoon.
It’s Christmas Eve 1999, and we’re in the office area of a Dublin funeral home. Twenty-year-old Mark is the nephew of its owner, the unseen and benevolent Noel who is ill and hospitalized. Mark has just started working there as an assistant until he figures out what he wants to do and is in a strained romantic relationship with a female flight attendant. Pushing 60, John is the alcoholic manager who still drinks sparingly. Drinking shattered his marriage and he’s been estranged from his wife, son and daughter for over ten years. Sometime ago, at a low ebb he encountered Noel in a pub and he gave him a job, allowing him this life-changing opportunity. Mary, his hardened thirtyish daughter pays a surprise visit to inform him of a family crisis.
Employing well-crafted dialogue and pointed incidents, Mr. McPherson offers an immaculate psychological portrait of the self-loathing John through designed subtlety. John embodies the archetype of the guilt-ridden Irish alcoholic tortured by his inner demons. We learn of his abusive father, the painful tale of his widowed mistress and the mental toll of tending to the dead which has the symbolic irony of giving him a new lease on life. Though eschewing sentimentality, the miniscle plot winds down with resolve. McPherson’s richly drawn characters are compelling, making for fine roles.
Bearded, bald and utilizing a pronounced Irish accent, the physically imposing Jeffrey Bean is towering as John. The beaming Mr. Bean’s delightful bonhomie gives way to harrowing anguish as he conveys John’s dark sensibility while consuming more and more whiskey, shambling about and later coping with the bender’s aftereffects. Bean’s everyman presence endows his performance with the dimension of being a stand in for all self-pitying delinquent fathers.
With her pleasing vocal tones, the luminous and red-haired Sarah Street veers from feisty to tender during her appearance as Mary. Ms. Street’s balanced explosiveness is fused with affective overtones as we get that despite their distance, John is still her father. Shifting from boyish uncertainty to steely determination as he has to deal with the unraveling John, the winning Cillian Hegarty makes a forceful impression as Mark.
With appropriate simplicity, director Ciarán O’Reilly’s physical staging renders the placement of his choice cast with variance and precision. Mr. O’Reilly’s major accomplishment is their shaded and wrenching performances. These occur on scenic designer Charlie Corcoran’s beige-accented set that evokes the drab elegiac atmosphere of a funeral home while contrasting with strategically placed Christmas decorations. Michael Gottlieb’s steady lighting design melds straightforwardness and moodiness. Sound designers M. Florian Staab and Ryan Rumery render musical bits and effects with unobtrusive focus. Besides the realistic men’s garments, costume designer Leon Dobkowski provides a neat winter ensemble for Mary including a great infinity scarf.
Dublin Carol premiered in 2000 at London’s Royal Court Theatre with Brian Cox playing John. Its U.S. debut took place in 2003 at New York City’s Off-Broadway Atlantic Theatre Company with the Obie Award-winning Jim Norton as John. This absorbing revival presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre reveals it to be a humane, small-scale exploration containing emotional power.
Dublin Carol (through November 10, 2019)
Irish Repertory Theatre
Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage, 132 West 22nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-727-2737 or visit http://www.irishrep.org
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission