If you need tidings of comfort and joy, look no further than the Keegan Theatre’s seventh annual production of “An Irish Carol.” This is the second year in a row that this reviewer has had the pleasure of seeing this irreverent and heart-warming gem, and I can say that it only improves upon further acquaintance.
The play’s story moves Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” into a modern-day Irish pub. The Scrooge of the piece is David (Kevin Adams, reprising his role), the long-time owner of the pub, and equally long-time grump. As in the source material, the action of the play centers on the events of a bumpy Christmas Eve, as enjoyable pub regulars Jim (Mark A. Rhea, also directing) and Frank (Timothy H. Lynch) arrive, along with Dave’s earnest brother, Michael (Michael Kozemchak). An unwanted business proposal by former employee Simon (Christian Montgomery) sours Dave’s mood, which is made worse by Richard (Daniel Lyons), a ghost from Dave’s past.
Kevin Adams reprises his role as “the bleedin’ miser,” and triumphs again. He harrumphs and slumps around his pub, the clutter of collected stuff displayed in the rafters hinting at the character’s accumulated emotional baggage. Adams’ layered performance is a perfect mix of grumble and hurt, not stinting on Dave’s anger, but suggesting the real pain underneath. The complexity makes it difficult not to empathize with him, so you are not surprised to hear Frank exclaim, “He’s a bollocks… but he’s our bollocks.”
…this play comes but once a year, and when it comes, it certainly brings great cheer.
Matthew J. Keenan’s well-paced script allows the supporting cast to shine as well, with sad revelations and frozen silences cut with profane humor. Much of that humor comes from Timothy H. Lynch, returning as the reliably inappropriate Frank, and from the old-timer’s interplay with old friend Jim, as well as the new bartender, Barktek. Josh Sticklin impresses with a sensitive portrayal of Bartek, and Caroline Dubberly does not miss an emotional beat as Anna, the conflicted but effortlessly sincere fiancé of Simon. The two serve as the emotional and moral center of this Christmas tale.
Though some harsh words are spoken, the overall production aesthetic evokes comfort and ease. Keenan creates a lovingly detailed Irish pub, complete with dark wood, creaking bar stools, a photo of Samuel Beckett and a crackling fire. It may be cold outside, but the knits and corduroys courtesy of Kelly Peacock’s costume design add to a sense of generous warmth.
The action is neatly managed by the sensitive spotlighting of Dan Martin, crucial for the climactic conversation between Dave and Richard. Daniel Lyons ably conveys Richard’s affection for his former friend, as well as his grief and resentment. The peak of Dave’s redemption arc, spurred by this confrontation, is a moving and emotionally satisfying scene that underlines Adams’ full embodiment of the character.
Like “A Christmas Carol,” “An Irish Carol” lands softly, with the promise of a happier, hopeful life for Dave. And like Christmas, this play comes but once a year, and when it comes, it certainly brings great cheer.
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Advisory: Parental guidance. Some explicit language.
“An Irish Carol” is playing at the Keegan Theatre through Dec. 31. For more information, click here.