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Boston by Suzanne Bixby

Dublin Carol
and
A Girl's War

Dublin Carol
Devon Jencks and Richard McElvain
in Dublin Carol

Dublin Carol by Conor McPherson was done Off-Broadway last year at the Atlantic Theater Company, directed by the author. Under the direction here of Janet Morrison, it is the season opener for The Nora Theatre Company at The Playwright's Theatre in Boston.

The most compelling reason to see this production is the performance of Richard McElvain as John, a middle-aged undertaker full of drink and regrets on the day before Christmas. McElvain and McPherson are synonymous to Boston audiences. For his one-man star turn in The Sugan Theatre's production of St. Nicholas McElvain received an Elliot Norton Award in 1999. The following season he regaled us again as one of McPherson's inveterate storytellers in The Weir at the New Repertory Theatre.

McPherson's reputation as a writer is built upon his affinity with the Irish tradition of spinning tales. This time out there's more give and take between the three characters, but John's not-so-pretty past is clearly the focus of Dublin Carol. His indiscretions, omissions and follies of a half-century of living spill sloppily out over the course of the day, provoked by his benefactor and employer being hospitalized and lubricated by the bottle he keeps in the office desk.

The presence of a new, young assistant (Bryce Pinkham) in the first and last scenes and the unexpected appearance of his estranged daughter (Devon Jencks) in the middle become the devices by which we get to hear his sordid confessions and misguided advice.

As terrific as all of those performances are and as skillful as McPherson is at painting portraits - of the unseen characters as well as those onstage - all the talk in Dublin Carol isn't particularly compelling. The forward action consists mainly of drinking too much, vomiting, and then drinking again. The "drama" has either happened well in the past or occurs offstage.

The actors are slightly too confined by Eric Levenson's evocative set and were bedeviled by troublesome props at the opening performance. And when my attention was flagging, I spent an undue amount of time musing about the slightly peculiar Christmas decorations scattered about.

These fixtures come into play in the final moments but it's not clear what they are meant to signify. If Morrison could figure out how to indicate more clearly whether John is going to do what his daughter has asked of him, the 90 minutes would add up to more. This might also better substantiate the Christmas setting and the allusion to Dickens' Christmas story beyond the fact that John's girlfriend Carol was his "angel of drink."

Dublin Carol, now through October 5th, produced by the Nora Theatre in cooperation with Boston Playwrights' Theatre, at 949 Commonwealth Avenue (on the Boston College B - Green Line.) Performances are on Wednesday &Thursday at 7:30 and Friday & Saturday at 8:00 with matinees on Sunday at 3:00. All tickets are $25.00. For tickets and further information call the Nora Box Office at 617-491-2026, visit Ticketmaster outlets and Bostix booths at Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Copley Square, or call Ticketmaster PhoneCharge at 617-931-2000.

Special events include a wine tasting on Wednesday, October 1st and a post-play discussion on Sunday, September 28th and the performance on Wednesday, September 24th is designated as "pay what you can."


Photo: Eric Levenson

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A Girl's War
Katarina Morhacova and Bobbi Steinbach in A Girl's War

The season opener for the New Rep in Newton Highlands is the world premiere of A Girl's War by local award-winning playwright Joyce Van Dyke. Directed by Producing Artistic Director Rick Lombardo this one has more than enough action and drama.

While the whiskey in Dublin Carol fuels only talk, the blackberry vodka in A Girl's War flames artistic temper tantrums, exploding landmines, motherly admonitions and dueling boyfriends along with some nude bathing and a little old lady flaying about with a machine gun.

The war of the title is the one between Ana's 31-year old successful fashion model self and her role as the daughter of a mother who is now a sniper defending their Armenian homeland. Mother and daughter are compellingly played by the striking, statuesque Katarina Morhacova and the diminutive, feisty Bobbi Steinbach.

Ana returns home after an unexplained fifteen-year absence when the second of her two brothers is killed in the long-term civil strife that divides Nagorno-Karabakh. At a crossroads in her career and going nowhere in the relationships department, she toys with the idea of chucking it all and remaining there to help rebuild her devastated village.

Her resolve is fueled by taking Ilyas, a childhood friend of her brother's who ended up on the other side of the struggle, as her lover. To add to the confusion about her identity, her fashion photographer ex boyfriend drops by to see how she's doing after running into a little too much reality himself while on assignment in Istanbul.

This personal conflict is set against the very real, very messy Armenian-Azerbaijani armistice. Though most of us in America know little of the details, it serves to represent any of the religious, territorial, ethnic disputes so much in the news. To compensate for our ignorance Van Dyke overloads the play with information that only adds to the blur of the unfamiliar.

I can't help comparing and contrasting this experience to that of seeing Homebody/Kabul in Chicago this summer. But for the unforeseen events of September 11th and its aftermath, Kushner's play, too, would be awash in strange names and obscure facts. The other striking contrast, however, is how "quite" his play is compared to Van Dyke's without the atrocities portrayed being any less devastating.

In fact, the best moments in A Girl's War are the ones played at the lowest decibel. The scene where we first meet Ana's mother, in a dress with her hair down, feeding yogurt to her full-grown daughter is exquisite as is the one where Ana bathes Ilyas.

The other masters of subtlety are scenic designer Richard Chambers and lighting designer Daniel Meeker who manage to represent both a New York City photographer's studio and the remains of Ana's home in Karabakh with a single construction of 2 x 4's, tarps, parachute silk and temporary Lucite panels. The bits of concrete in the foreground with their twisted metal supports poking up represented-for me anyway-the recent horrific destruction in both of these locations.

A Girl's War now through October 19th at the New Repertory Theatre in Newton Highlands (on the Riverside D - Green Line.) Tickets and further information are available online at www.newrep.org or at 617-332-1646. Tickets are priced from $27-$42 and performances, matinees and evenings, are Wednesdays though Sundays.


Photo: Craig Bailey


Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Boston area.



- Suzanne Bixby



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