Off-Broadway Review: “Dublin Carol” at Irish Repertory Theatre

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  • David Roberts, Chief New York Critic

Undertaker John Plunkett (Jeffrey Bean) and his intern Mark (Cillian Hegarty) enter the office of a funeral home on the Northside of Dublin where John works. They have just finished a service and John compliments Mark on his work at the graveside. With that non-descript arrival, Conor McPherson’s “Dublin Carol,” currently playing at Irish Repertory Company, begins its narrative. Over a twenty-four-hour period on Christmas Eve, and in three parts, McPherson’s play, published in 2000, rehearses the life of Plunkett – his alcoholism, his infidelity to his wife Helen, and his abandonment of her and their children Paul and Mary (Sarah Street) for his enabling mistress Carol.

Although it is honorable for John to want to pay forward the kindness he received from his employer Noel by hiring his nephew Mark, it is less than honorable for John to have “paid forward” the detritus accumulated from his years of addition, indifference, and neglect of his wife and children. The playwright details John’s addiction with the extensive and judicious use of literary tropes, including figurative language, imagery, and a heavy dose of ethos and pathos. The discovery includes just how terrible a spouse and parent John has been, how John almost ended up a “tramp,” and how often John has attempted to redeem himself without success.

In short, undertaker John Plunkett is among the “walking dead” living in the midst of deep denial unaware of who he was, who he is or “who he would be.” In the second part of the play, John’s daughter Mary arrives to tell John his wife Helen is dying of cancer and implores him to visit her in the hospital with her at 5:00 p.m. that day. Her visit sparks further rounds of regret and confession, and details even more the despicable things John has done “under the influence.” John offers only excuses for his past behavior and his hypocrisy and inability to reform become even more evident. The gruesome details about his worst funeral – “baby born down the toilet” – seem to match the gruesome details of his life. John’s story lacks conviction and contrition.

John’s extended sessions of confession to his daughter Mary and to Mark seem to stop shy of an actual plea for forgiveness. He is so full of self-pity, he fails to understand the dynamics of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation – John just wants to say, “I’m sorry,” and move on expecting his listeners (Mark and Mary) to be his confessors as well. It is no mistake the three main characters bear biblical names. Indeed, John seems comfortable with the idea of his death. He is content with being able “to slip away under the darkness of night.”

Conor McPherson’s “millennial” script is quite relevant. Alcoholism and addition to opioids and other drugs continue to increase, and the death from drug overdoses is beyond epidemic. It is not the script that is at fault here; unfortunately, it is the production itself. Jeffrey Bean does not seem to know what do with his multi-dimensional character John. Mr. Bean’s delivery is one-dimensional with only the occasional shouting to indicate depth. The actor barely uses Sven Henry Nelson’s props which are rich tropes that need development: the whisky bottle, the kettle, the cups are handled with nonchalance and indifference.

Despite the help of his fellow actors, Jeffrey Bean does not quite show the audience the shadowy underbelly of John’s story. Perhaps he needs more direction or perhaps he needs even more help from Mr. Hegarty and Ms. Street. Whatever the reason, the beginning, middle, and end of “Dublin Carol” fall flat. John’s “preparations” for Mary’s pending visit and his apparent willingness to recant and recover are not believable and lack the cathartic impact to convince the audience otherwise.

 

DUBLIN CAROL

The cast of “Dublin Carol” features Jeffrey Bean, Cillian Hegarty, and Sarah Street.

“Dublin Carol” features set design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Leon Dobkowski, lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, sound design by M. Florian Staab and Ryan Rumery, and properties by Sven Henry Nelson. Jeff Davolt serves as production stage manager.

“Dublin Carol” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) through Sunday November 10, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets to “Dublin Carol” range from $45-$70 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jeffrey Bean and Cillian Hegarty in Irish Rep's “Dublin Carol.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.