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Theater review by Diane Snyder
As potent as a shot of whiskey, Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol forces a man nearly ruined by alcohol to face his ghosts on Christmas Eve. Fiftysomething Irish undertaker John Plunkett (Jeffrey Bean) gets a visit from Mary (Sarah Street)—the adult daughter he hasn’t seen in a decade—because his long-abandoned wife is dying and wants to see him. For many years, John’s method of survival has been to avoid his painful past and the damage he’s caused, but that’s no longer an option.
On this day of reckoning, John drinks, makes excuses, revisits his past and wrestles with his guilt. Bean’s exquisite portrayal of this bruised and haunted man delves deeply into his restless psyche. Self-loathing but also self-indulgent, John struggles to hold himself together, and he has an easier time relating to a young colleague (Cillian Hegarty), whose uncle saved him from destitution, than to his own daughter. When Mary expresses his love for him, he replies, “Why do you love me?”
First staged Off Broadway in 2003, Dublin Carol maintains its quietly powerful impact. Director Ciarán O’Reilly and his expert cast bring out the sadness, regret and hope that define these characters, as well as the simple eloquence of McPherson’s words. The playwright, whose Bob Dylan musical Girl from the North Country will be on Broadway later this season, isn’t one for earth-shattering revelations. Can John finally take responsibility for his failings and, like Scrooge, emerge a better person? It may take more than the spirit of Christmas to accomplish that.
Irish Repertory Theatre (Off Broadway). By Conor McPherson. Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 25mins. No intermission.