No, this isn’t just A Christmas Carol with an accent; it is a riff on the familiar Dickens structure, transported to the equally familiar stage world of an old Irish bar. The ghosts and visitations are traded for recriminations and memories; the supreme miser Scrooge for the grumpy old owner David; the near-penniless Cratchit for working-class Polish immigrant Bartek. This is the fairy tale-scope and primary colors of the classic tale brought down and in to a more subtle and sepia-toned mood. In other words – an ideal Carol for the end of this year of our quarantine 2020.
It is somewhat surprising to learn that this production originated at Keegan Theatre back in 2011 with this same cast also under Mark A. Rhea’s mellow direction. The actors all seem to be just now the perfect age for these characters; the additional decade of wisdom must have enriched their portrayals. Matthew J. Keenan’s unfussy script affords us the leisure to enjoy simply hanging around these regular folks, whose relationships are as lived-in as the antique-filled set (designed by the playwright and dressed by Cindy Landrum Jacobs). There’s David Jourdan’s stout storyteller Jim, Josh Sticklin’s abiding Bartek, Timothy Hayes Lynch’s ditzy drunk Frank, Susan Marie Rhea’s neighborly newcomer Anna. Everyone has seen a bit too much of life, and everyone feels mostly pity for Kevin Adam’s gruff David.
The story unfolds in small details. David is not rolling in cash; he might have some money “under a mattress” somewhere. He feels the need to stay open on Christmas to accommodate a party for a rich jerk, just as Bartek feels the need to put up with David’s bullying to make his own paycheck. Emotionally and even financially, these are folks who are largely just getting by, not at the top and bottom of society as in Dickens’ fable. It’s a familiar mirror to look into.
The production has a few flaws. For one, we spend more time hearing about who David is, and slowly discovering just why he is so embittered, than we spend with him directly, a consequence of excising direct visitations to his past. There’s an unnecessary and unfortunate dip into the trope of autistic children being burdens. And, on a technical level, while Sticklin does a fine job with the visual aspects of the film editing, we are sadly unable to report that Keegan has become the theatre that figured out how to effectively record sound in a play on an echoey stage in an empty theatre. No subtitles are available, so some phrases will just slip by your ears.
Ultimately, David’s Christmas Eve is one composed of small encounters with humanity, challenges from long-lost friends, and little glimpses of what he has given up by hiding himself behind a harsh demeanor, culminating in a gorgeously silent moment of reckoning. The final expected turn to “god bless us, every one” is perhaps a little too quick and cheery coming after such an understated journey, but we’re all deserving of a bit of light at the end of the decade.
There’s something to be said for any of the numerous customary Christmas Carols out there; we can all use those theatrical comfort blankets from time to time. But for those who feel like they don’t have it in them, after this bear of a year, to play pretend with spirits and miracles, who just want a more quietly earned, mature, and earthy version of the tale – that still delivers on the uplift – this Irish Carol will go down like a glass of smooth whisky on a cold winter night.
An Irish Carol
Produced by Keegan Theatre
1 hour, 20 minutes
Available through Dec 31, 2020.
A final note. If I am not mistaken, this will be the final review posted here on DC Theatre Scene. If you missed the news , the site will be shutting down due to the kind of financial troubles, discussed above, that we all have seen. Personally, it has been an honor to be a part of this endeavor to keep quality theatre criticism alive in an era where fewer and fewer resources are available to review small- and medium-sized theatre. Every production deserves a response – ideally, two or three – from competent critics, for the sake of audiences seeking the right ticket for their tastes, for the sake of artists benefitting from community feedback, and for the sake of the historical record. Whether you agree or disagree with, found useful or useless, this or any of DC Theatre Scene’s other reviews or features, our artistic community will be a little bit poorer without this platform.
But nothing is forever, and I feel certain the work we have all done has lasting value even as the shows and the site itself close. What we have accomplished is not erased by the fact that we will not be continuing. Thank you to Lorraine and Tim for all of it. Good luck out there, and stay safe.