Review – Dublin Carol – Trafalgar Studios

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Every year I have three Christmas theater traditions: I try to see one Nutcracker, one Panto (or two, or three), and one “Christmas Carol.” This year I did a combo “Christmas Carol” outing, with one trip to hear a reading of Dicken’s story “The Chimes” in the Garden Court Chambers (satisfying the Dickens part) and one trip to see a show with the word “Carol” in it that I thought might have more than a passing nod to the more famous body of plays borrowing on the Dickensian trope. And, well, one act play with seventy minutes running time, what’s not to like?

As it turns out, about the only thing this show has in common with Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” is that it takes place on Christmas eve. John (Gary Lydon) isn’t rich and certainly doesn’t lord it over the poor; his sin is that of being long a drunk and willing to point the finger of blame for his wreck of a life to anyone but himself. It’s a skill he’s eager to teach Mark (Rory Keenan), his assistant-du-jour at the funeral home John manages. In grand style, John jaws his way through most of the first forty minutes of the play, going through mortality and the benefits of dating stewardesses to the point where my brain came to a complete stop.

In the second scene, John’s daughter Mary (Pauline Hutton) comes by, apparently on the same day, to tell him her mother is in the hospital dying of cancer. John then stands there and makes a bunch of excuses for pretty much his entire life while Mary nails him to the wall for being a shoddy excuse for a father. It all seemed rather a bit too familiar for me, although I was distracted by listening to the characters speak the words; it sounded like good Irish accents that had not had much practice – not surprising given that this was first preview (and the only night I could come as most performances were already sold out).

Then it was the final scene, in which John starts out passed out at his desk and then gives Mark a stunning bit of bad advice about blaming women for making you feel bad when you hurt their feelings, essentially saying they’re probably trying to manipulate you and at best if they were decent they would keep their feelings to themselves. Mark, shockingly, actually decides this is bad advice, forcing John to dump a bunch of his own emotional garbage on Mark in order to save face (by earning pity). In retrospect: wow, John is just a total piece of work.

And the play, well, it’s a little bit of misery at Christmas time, the kind that makes you want to drink until you can’t remember the names of your children much less how to make your way home from the bar. I don’t feel I saw any character evolution in this, and it made me yearn, I tell you, yearn for the bigger focus of Dicken’s Carol. Since when did Christmas become the holiday for self pity? At the end of Dicken’s story, Scrooge changed, but I saw no sign of this happening for John; in fact, I expected that shortly after he went to the hospital (if he made it at all), he was about to slide back down the hole of alcoholism. It was pretty bleak. That said, it wasn’t all that long – but neither was it too particularly interesting. I’d call it a good show to perform as a high school character practice piece, but there are a million things much better available right now and in general, I’d say you should go see one of those.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on December 8, 2011. Performances continue through December 31st and are nearly entirely sold out.)

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