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Dublin Carol

Theatre Review by David Hurst - October 1, 2019

Jeffrey Bean and Cillian Hegarty
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Opening their fall with a stellar production of Conor McPherson's achingly poignant Dublin Carol, the Irish Repertory Theatre's new season is off to a grand start. A small gem of a drama which barely runs 90 minutes without an intermission, Dublin Carol is the Rep's sixth staging of a work by McPherson, and, like its predecessors (including St. Nicholas in 2010, The Weir in 2013 & 2015, Port Authority in 2014, Shining City in 2016 and The Seafarer in 2018), its success depends on optimal casting and a director, CiarĂ¡n O'Reilly, who keeps things simple. Luckily, the Rep's Dublin Carol has both, and boasts what could be a career-making performance by Jeffrey Bean in the lead role.

Like McPherson's entire oeuvre, Dublin Carol revolves around the ravages of alcoholism, the agony of regret and the possible redemption of the human soul, all wrapped up in monologues which can become showcases for talented actors lucky enough to put their stamp on them. Originally staged at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2000 starring Brian Cox, Bronagh Gallagher and Andrew Scott, Dublin Carol was seen for the first time in New York in 2003 at the Atlantic in a terrific production starring Jim Norton (who won an Obie), Kerry O'Malley and Keith Nobbs. Happily, there's much to savor and appreciate in the current Irish Rep's revival.

Set on Christmas Eve, 1999, in a funeral parlor on the Northside of the title city (impressively rendered by Charlie Corcoran), Dublin Carol is structured in three scenes. The first scene finds John (Bean) and his employer, Noel's, 20-year old nephew, Mark (a pitch-perfect Cillian Hegarty), arriving back from a morning service where tea and whiskey are consumed and John begins regaling Mark with the story of his life. It's clear his life has been ravaged by drink and it destroyed his marriage and family, his life only being saved by Noel's intervention.

Sarah Street and Jeffrey Bean
Photo by Carol Rosegg

The second scene finds a young woman, Mary (the luminous Sarah Street), arriving at the office to see John. It turns out Mary is John's daughter and they haven't seen each other for ten years. Mary's come to tell her father his wife is dying and she wants to see him one more time. This news unleashes a host of Ghost-of-Christmas-Past memories that bring John to an emotional crossroads of self-justification and self-abuse. The third and final scene is set late in the afternoon as John awaits Mary's return to accompany him to the hospital. Mark returns to the office to pick up his pay and he and John enter into a conversation that prompts John to see the Ghost-of-Christmas-Future in Mark's current dilemma with his girlfriend. Thankfully, as bleak as McPherson's story is, there's a ray of hope in Dublin Carol's ending that gives the play a welcome drop of hope in what frequently appears to be a bottomless bottle of misery.

Despite its simple plot and an occasional humorous moment, it should be noted Dublin Carol might not be everyone's cup of tea. Specifically, its damaged protagonist, John, magnificently portrayed by journeyman actor Jeffrey Bean, has some of the darkest episodes of his life dredged up over the course of an afternoon and the resulting emotional catharsis he goes through is painful to watch. But it's also impossible to forget. Dublin Carol may be one of McPherson's only plays where the listening is as important as the talking.

Dublin Carol
Through November 10
Irish Repertory Theatre Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage, 132 West 22nd Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix