Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Dublin Carol"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi


by Conor McPherson
directed by Janet Morrison

Mark … Bryce Pinkham
John … Richard McElvain
Mary … Devon Jencks

Over at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Richard McElvain is quietly giving one of the year’s best performances in DUBLIN CAROL, his third Conor McPherson play; to quote from his bio, Mr. McElvain “hopes Boston audiences are not too tired of seeing him play angst-ridden, middle-aged Irishmen…” I, for one, am not --- he can portray an entire village of ‘em if they be as memorable as his current creation.

The plot itself is but a thread: John, an undertaker’s assistant estranged from his family and adrift in a sea of drink, is visited by his daughter Mary on Christmas Eve (!); Mary coaxes, begs and demands that John come visit his dying wife and arrange for her funeral. After assorted fireworks, he agrees (shades of Ebenezer Scrooge, here). That’s all there is, but that is plenty enough: Mr. McPherson coolly but compassionately charts the mental terrain of an alcoholic, from John’s summing up of his marriage (“I thought of it like God has sent me a drink angel. Like I believed in God and he'd sent this to take care of me. And that she was confused because she didn't know why God has sent her.”) to his bleakly humorous step-by-step lecture on how to live with a monkey on your back. DUBLIN CAROL is a character turn and Mr. McElvain turns John over and over until he is well done, capturing a man who is immaculately scrubbed and dressed but shabby and threadbare within, who tries to be a hearty sage towards his own young assistant but shrivels in self-hatred when Mary, the symbol of his past, invades his barricaded world --- the world, ironically, of the dying and the dead. (Bryce Pinkham and Devon Jencks are not as convincing in their roles --- their Irish accents come and go, sometimes alarmingly --- but they listen well to the sly and subtle Mr. McElvain, as mesmerized as his audience.)

Eric Levenson has designed a simple set that’s all dankness and gloom; the few Christmas touches are pitiably feeble in contrast. If Janet Morrison’s direction consists of nothing more than letting Mr. McElvain run with DUBLIN CAROL, she has done a good and wise thing: Mr. McElvain IS the show --- but for only a few more performances.

"Dublin Carol" (18 September - 5 October)
Boston Playwrights Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA
1 (617) 491-2026

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide