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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Conor McPherson's Dublin Carol
is a Harsh but Tender Drama

Also see Richard's reviews of Rescue and Recovery and Fêtes de la Nuit

Dublin Carol
Gary Armagnac
The Aurora Theatre is presenting the West Coast premiere of Conor McPherson's Dublin Carol, running through March 6. This young Irish playwright, who is best known for The Weir, is presenting an affectionate but unsparing portrait of an Irish undertaker who is an alcoholic still fighting his demons. The play played to great acclaim in London and Dublin and opened at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York in 2003 to good reviews.

Dublin Carol is a 90-minute, no-intermission, stunning piece of work. It takes place in the comfortable office of a funeral home in Dublin on Christmas Eve and centers on John Plunkett (Gary Armagnac), who still likes to tip the bottle. He has just returned with his young assistant Mark (Nicholas Pelczar) from a service. In the play's first of three scenes, John discusses the day's activities and how Mark's uncle, who is his employer and now in hospital, took John in and gave him a life before he sank into being a pure drunk. John believes he is really dead since he has lost the love of his family, the respect for himself and any kind of accomplishment. The only thing he has is the whiskey he drinks every day; but, as he points out, he remembers to eat, has a bed to sleep in and shows up for work each morning. He spins tales about his past to Mark and reveals that he used to be much worse, barely a step above a street drunk.

The second scene involves a surprise visit from John's estranged daughter Mary (Holli Hornlein). She arrives to tell him that his wife, her mother, is dying of cancer and that he should visit her in the hospital that day before she passes away. John left the wife and daughter years ago and has no remorse or sympathy since the noxious years of self abuse have left him with no conscience. John at first shies away from going with the daughter, but after a discussion of their past life together, he relents and says he will go with Mary to the hospital when the daughter returns at five o'clock.

The third and final scene involves a confrontation between John and Mark, who has returned to the home to get his work money. Mark tells John that he is breaking off with his girlfriend and there is a long discussion about that relationship and how Mark should try to save the love that he had for the girl. Mark leaves and John gets ready to go to see his wife at the hospital.

Dublin Carol is a little gem that is mostly a character study of John. Gary Armagnac (A Taste of Honey at the Roundabout, The Caretaker at Circle Rep) gives a powerful performance as the alcoholic. He brings alive his tormented afflictions and all of his contradictions. His performance is amazing as a man wrestling with his soul. Holli Hornlein (The Angels of Lemnos at Chicago Dramatists) is uplifting as the daughter who still loves her father. Nicholas Pelczar (All's Well That Ends Well) is very good as Mark and displays good acting chops with his confrontation in the final scene.

Richard Olmsted's set captures the mortuary office that has seen better days, with a battered Christmas tree that looks bedraggled. Director Joy Carlin keeps the play sharp and moving along.

Dublin Carol plays at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley through March 6th. For tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org The company next production will be Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange opening on April 8th.


Photo: David Allen


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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