Review: ‘An Irish Carol’ at Keegan Theatre

With a heart as cold as the blustery winds blowing people in and out the door, An Irish Carol by Matthew J. Keenan finds David, a pub’s miserly owner, confronted by guests of his past and glimpses of his future on a chilly Christmas Eve. This modern-day A Christmas Carol adaption, directed by Mark A. Rhea, looks at one man’s withdrawal from the world at the expense of others and challenges us to embrace the ghosts of our Christmases present, past, and future.

Matthew Keenan's An Irish Carol plays through December 31 at the Keegan Theatre. Photo by Mike Kozemchak.
Matthew Keenan’s An Irish Carol plays through December 31 at the Keegan Theatre. Photo by Mike Kozemchak.

David, the churlish antagonist at the center of An Irish Carol, is played by the grave Kevin Adams. Plagued with business worries and no time or care for the feelings of others, David stalks around his pub as if each step would bring him farther from the people in his life—specifically his brother Michael (Jon Townson)—and closer to an extra quid. For a man of relatively few words, K. Adams’ David was an intense force for grump and misery. Content to wallow and lash out at those who dared to make the day merry, watching him was a study in quiet and purposeful acting.

Balancing out David’s misery was the effervescent and scene-stealing bartender, Bartek (Josh Adams). Bartek’s earnest dedication to his work and the happiness those felt around him was infectious in a true Bob Cratchit style, and I found myself watching him even when the scene’s focus was elsewhere. He radiated sheepish charm from his ears to those dancing feet in a way that even the play’s more somber moods couldn’t blot out.

Equally as jolly but much more irreverent were long-time bar patrons and one time friends of David’s, Jim (Mark A. Rhea) and Frank (Timothy Hayes Lynch). Persistently poking through David’s surly, cut-off exterior, these old pals played off each other with the history of an aged friendship and the immaturity of young teenage boys. Frank in particular was a delightful embodiment of comedy and the Christmas spirit. His spot-on timing always seemed to have the perfect quirk, remark, or reflex to defuse the tension that coursed throughout the evening.

While Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was a linear reflection of a man’s life and the many turns that it traveled down, An Irish Carol mixes the past, present, and future into one messy day. David is tossed up and down his timeline through visits by former employee Simon (Josh Sticklin) and fiancée Anna (Caroline Dubberly) as well as former friend Richard (Mick Tinder). Dubberly’s Anna, in particular, had the keen ability to get to the heart of a person after only a few minutes with her warm and engaging aura. This connective proclivity and a mysterious letter from an old flame push David first to discomfort, then to defensive anger as he searches for a way to end the haunting of Christmas Eve.

As usual, the Production Team of An Irish Carol (a Keegan Theatre holiday tradition) was thoughtful, thorough, and top-notch. Director Mark A. Rhea and Assistant Director Sheri S. Herren laid out this simmering holiday reflection simply and without distraction in the moments that really mattered. Using silence and empty space to their advantage, their direction drew out the pulse that connected each scene and had the audience holding their breath. Paired with a spectacularly intricate set by Set Designer, Matthew J. Keenan and Properties & Set Dressing Designer Cindy Landrum Jacobs, the spirit and chill of the holidays quite literally was all-surrounding.

Matthew Keenan's An Irish Carol plays through December 31 at the Keegan Theatre. Photo by Mike Kozemchak.
Matthew Keenan’s An Irish Carol plays through December 31 at the Keegan Theatre. Photo by Mike Kozemchak.

A reflective and more than occasionally foul-mouthed show that picks at the choices we make to (dis)connect, An Irish Carol at the Keegan Theatre once again proves that the past is not gone, the future is not final, and no one is beyond hope.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

An Irish Carol plays through December 31, 2018, at the Keegan Theatre – 1742 Church Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.

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Em Skow
Ever since she can remember, Em Skow has been transfixed by the performing arts and sought to submerse herself in them in any way she could. She started singing in choirs in elementary school, added theater productions in middle and high school, picked up an English Creative Writing Bachelor's degree and a photography passion in college, and, now - a good handful of years later - is keeping each as a part of her life here in D.C. By day, she's a Communications Professional. By night, she's a PR and Corporate Communications masters student at Georgetown University; Soprano & Communications Manager of the 18th Street Singers; and Theater Reviewer for the one and only DC Metro Theater Arts. All-in-all, a self-professed theater, choral, arts nerd, and she likes it that way.