An Irish Carol at The Keegan Theatre

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Last night, The Keegan Theatre’s fourth annual production of An Irish Carol met a full house ready to experience the play’s impressive reputation. However this time, the Company has a few different goals. First, they make clear that every sale they make from this production will be set-aside for the Capital Campaign. The play is completely comprised of donations, from the actors’ time in the play to Theater J’s beautiful performance space, which allows the Keegan to focus on the creation of their new Artist’s SpaceYou can donate here.

The lower level of their newly renovated theater is where the Keegan artists spend much of their time, and the company wishes to build new space for offices, rehearsals, and much more. The ticket sales and donations from An Irish Carol will help them accomplish that goal.

(left to right) Kevin Adams, and Mike Kozemchak. Photo by Jim Coates.

(left to right) Kevin Adams and Mike Kozemchak. Photo by Jim Coates.

The second goal of the evening was to honor company member George Lucas, who had recently undergone a live transplant. Lucas is particularly known for the beautiful sets he has designed for past Keegan productions. While he did not build An Irish Carol’s set, he did paint three pieces of art that were used in the world that Set Designers Colin Smith and Matthew Keenan crafted for this performance. The beautiful paintings, depicting scenes of rainy days in Ireland, enhanced Smith and Keenan’s old Irish Pub, and helped create the dreary atmosphere for a play about hardship and remembrance. Lucas also donated a fourth painting, which will be sold to the highest bidder. The proceeds will be added to the Capital Campaign.

The dedication to George Lucas and wishes to honor a friend in need helped set the mood for the evening, and prepared us to experience Company Member Keenan’s play. Directed by Mark Rhea and based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, An Irish Carol follows the story of David (Kevin Adams), a wealthy pub owner. The newly adapted Ebenezer Scrooge, caught up in his world plagued by loneliness, faces challenges from voices of the present, future, and past on this particular Christmas Eve that force him to make a decision about how he should spend the rest of his life. However, unlike the famous Dickens tale, David’s voices of reason are not ghosts, but rather warnings from friends who wish to help him better his life.

Keenan successfully updated the Dickens classic to the present through a witty and clever script. One of the more interesting aspects of Keenan’s story was that a majority of the action took place when David was off stage. For example, when David left the room, Jim (David Jourdan) and Frank (Timothy H. Lynch) shared information with David’s bartender Bartek (Josh Sticklin) about his boss’ past love life that brought him to this lonely state. They told their story in fragments, based on the different characters that would enter the room at a given time, and how David might react to their presence. Keenan’s mode of story telling was fascinating, and because we learned a new piece of David’s history before of each of his stage entrances, I found myself sympathizing more and more with his position every time I saw him. By the time we reached the conclusion of the play in which Keenan accessed Dickens’ concept of redemption in light of the Christmas season, I felt that I understood David’s difficulty in making the decision to “forgive and forget” every unfortunate event that he had to experience, such as losing the love of his life.

Smith and Keenan’s realistic set helped carry me into the world of the play. They built an Irish pub on stage, complete with a whisky barrel, a fireplace, and a large bar with stools. The set was beautifully crafted, and Lucas’ paintings brought it to life. With the addition of Dan Martin’s lighting design, the designers managed to create the ambiance of a warm pub that these characters might wish to enter on a cold Christmas Eve. Their set design also created various places in which characters might be able to hide in such a way that the audience can see them, but the other characters on stage cannot. This choice enhanced a key scene between Bartek and Anna (Susan Marie Rhea). The two characters were discussing information that they may not have wished David to hear, but because of his hiding place behind the bar, he could hear their thoughts that would help contribute to his later redemption.

Despite David’s sad story, the witty and comedic script itself elicited immense laughter from the audience, particularly through Lynch’s portrayal of Frank. His brilliant comedic timing helped land of each of his jokes, such as his comment on David’s brother Michael’s future child. Michael (Mike Kozemchak) jokingly threatened Frank if the baby turned out to look like him, and Frank informed him “If it comes out drunk, it’s mine,” which resulted in a roar of laughter. Though occasionally brash, this older character is loved by everyone in the community, which Lynch brought to life through his ability to master the serious aspects of the character in addition to the comedic.

Another excellent aspect of Keenan’s script was that he delved into the backstories of each of the characters rather than simply focusing on David, which helped me appreciate each of the relationships I witnessed unfold on the stage. In addition to learning about Frank’s childhood for example, we also learn about Anna’s life. Susan Marie Rhea created a sweet and honest character that was easy to love from the moment she entered the stage, particularly in her desire to help Bartek. Sticklin’s approach to the polish bartender was adorable, and his fun stage presence always attracted me to his position on the stage. Jim acted as one of the rational voices on stage, and Jourdan’s slightly more serious approach to his character created a nice contrast to that of Frank’s that aired on the more ridiculous side.

Jourdan, Lynch, and Sticklin created the three major constants on the stage. Their ability to play off each other helped create a rich story that of which I was eager to hear more. Because they were the main characters sharing the information about David’s past, they added to Adams’ portrayal. I felt for his sad character, and with every bit of information I learned, I found myself looking forward to Adams’ entrances, to see how he might react to the new characters on stage.

Timothy Lynch and  Josh Sticklin. Photo by Jim Coates.

Timothy Lynch and Josh Sticklin. Photo by Jim Coates.

An Irish Carol was a joy from start to finish. Keenan’s adaption of Dickens’ classic is the perfect way to celebrate friendship and family during this holiday season. Based on the roar of applause that erupted for the full house, I would say the audience had just as much fun as me.

Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission.

An Irish Carol plays tonight, on Saturday December 27, 2014 and tomorrow Sunday Dec. 28th at 3 PM and 8 PM at Theater J – 1529 16th Street NW in Washington D.C. For tickets and information, go online.

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