Come in from the cold, grab your pint, and enjoy The Keegan Theatre’s most recent staging of “An Irish Carol.” Written by Matthew Keenan and directed by Mark A. Rhea, the play is a delightful reimagining of Dickens’ tale of redemption, with much more alcohol and gleeful profanity than the original, but just as much heart.
Swapping Victorian England for a no less wintry modern-day Ireland, the story begins on Christmas Eve in a Dublin pub where David (Kevin Adams), the long-time owner and the Scrooge of this tale, is just opening for the day. The first twilight scene of David wistfully stroking the bar, silently reminiscing and regretting, suggest a man who is haunted by personal ghosts, if not supernatural ones.
The somber mood is broken by the arrival of town locals, including the buoyant Jim (Mark A. Rhea) and the “dirty old fart” Frank (Timothy H. Lynch, hilarious). The verbal sparring of the old friends reaches out to include the new bartender, Bartek (Josh Adams). Ghosts of the past and present come in and out of the pub in the forms of David’s brother, Michael (Mike Kozemchak) as well as David’s former employee, a newly minted entrepreneur, Simon (Matthew Hirsh) with his fiancée, Anna (a pitch-perfect Caroline Dubberly). All agree that David has become a grumpy miser (“His bark’s always worse than his bite—Actually his bite’s pretty bad, too,” quips Simon.) The arrival of Richard (Mick Tinder), an old friend with a special request, leads to revelations about David’s past and the reason for his misanthropy.
… a delightful reimagining of Dickens’ tale of redemption, with much more alcohol and gleeful profanity than the original, but just as much heart.
Keenan’s script serves a small cast well. The action is well-paced, and the revelations of the evening, drawn out by unexpected appearances and ribald anecdotes, seem natural and unforced. The dialogue sounds like the well-worn chatter of friends over a pint, and there is much pleasure to be found in the characters’ well-practiced mutual ribbing and joking. Melancholy notes, which become more frequent as David’s sad history comes to light, compete with the consistent sardonic humor which received well-earned guffaws from the audience.
The small story is dressed well by a great design team. The set (courtesy of Carol H. Baker) provides the cozy backdrop of a quintessential pub, combining masculine brick and dark wood with familiar Guinness posters and shelves of bric-a-brac. The comfortable surroundings are matched by the casual sweaters and corduroys donned by the cast (costumes by Kelly Peacock), which make David’s uncomfortable-looking suit seem all the more out of place.
Kevin Adams’ performance is the centerpiece of this production. Gruff and cynical, he expresses David’s coiled aggression by stalking around the set, waggling his head like a bull during his short tirades. He chews on dialogue in a grumpy baritone, imbuing one-word answers with snide meaning. But just like Scrooge, the outsize nature of his crotchetiness makes him more endearing; he’s a mean one, but a fun one to watch. When he receives a message from an old friend, Adams’ face visually condenses decades of emotional struggle into a few moments. The power and depth of his performance make David’s relatively short jump to redemption and happiness a believable one.
After the curtain, theatre-goers exit to the strains of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” (I saw at least one audience member bopping along). The bright note seems appropriate for a play that, while at times dark, is ultimately about uplifting the human spirit and re-connecting to humanity. As is usual for the Christmas season, this is only one of many re-tellings of “A Christmas Carol;” some productions may be larger, but the small scope and simplicity of “An Irish Carol” make it a quietly engaging offering that will be enjoyed. Like a good pint, it will leave you feeling warmed, comforted, and satisfied.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Advisory: Parental guidance. Some explicit language.
“An Irish Carol” plays through Dec. 31, 2016, at the Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. For information and tickets, contact 202-265-3767 or click here.