By Conor McPherson
Directed by Jack Sbarbori
Produced by Quotidian Theatre Company
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol consists of three scenes set in the office of assistant funeral director John Plunkett (John Decker) in Dublin on Christmas Eve. The office is a nice creation by set designer Jack Sbarbori, just cluttered enough to be convincing and authentic in every touch, even down to the Aer Lingus coffee mug. Unfortunately, you may end up spending far too much time admiring the set because Sbarbori’s direction of this character study of a lonely man full of buried regrets is painfully slow-paced.
We first meet John as he engages in a long conversation with Mark (Michael Avolio), a 22 year old who assisted John with a service earlier that morning. Mark, a diffident and quiet man still trying to find his place in life, is the nephew of the funeral director who saved John from the depths of alcoholism with kindness and a job. Well, not entirely saved – every time Mark tries to leave, John finds an excuse to keep him a little longer while John drinks his morning whiskey and tells stories. The scene highlights the loneliness of John, who ruined his marriage and family years earlier. Unfortunately, the exposition and character development come at a snail’s pace, minimizing John’s forlornness and the power of the scene
In the second scene early that same afternoon John is visited by a young woman named Mary (Laura Russell). The script plays coy about her relationship to John far longer than it takes the audience to figure it out. The drama finally comes to life as we learn in more devastating detail about the destructive phase of John’s life. Laura Russell does a fine job in these confrontational scenes, modulating her performance skillfully as she relives the pain he caused her, describes her own life worries, and even expresses some tender feelings for John. Decker, however, never reaches the depths of conflict and remorse offered him by the playwright’s text.
The play concludes with Mark’s return late that afternoon to collect his wages for the morning’s work. His character is finally fleshed out a bit as the two men discuss their relationships with women. Ultimately, John makes a somewhat ambiguous choice, but this scene lacks the impact of the middle scene and results in a weak payoff for the audience’s patience.
Conor McPherson is a talented playwright capable of writing powerful and haunting dialogue, as theatergoers have seen in a works such as Shining City and The Weir, and I’m looking forward to Studio’s production of The Seafarer later this season. Dublin Carol is not among his best work, though, with only one fully fleshed out character, relatively static action, and dialogue that meanders around the central themes.
Perhaps this production could have been more successful had the actors achieved more emotional depth and the pacing been more taut. Unfortunately, the portrayal of John is too low-key and never realizes the rich possibilities offered by a conflicted alcoholic character. We witness the doubt, the regrets, the loneliness, and the internal conflicts but do not deeply feel them. As a result, we instead end up focusing too frequently on that well-designed set – and our watches.
Running Time: 1:45 (no intermission).
Where: Auditorium at the Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.
When: Until Dec. 14, 2008. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sunday matinees at 2 PM, and an added matinee on Saturday, December 13th at 2 PM.
Tickets: $20 ($15 for seniors and students). Call 301.816.1023 or go to the website.