DC Theater Arts Review: AN IRISH CAROL 2023

A welcoming ‘Irish Carol’ in a chummy pub at Keegan Theatre

December 7, 2023: The set of An Irish Carol is an authentically warm Irish pub flush with Christmas decorations, a tap that only spouts Guinness, and a sign above it all says “Failte,” an Irish word meaning “welcome.” In this delightful Dickensian tale, Matthew J. Keenan, the playwright and set designer of An Irish Carol, creates both a set and a story that welcomes audience members into a cozy and compelling world each December at The Keegan Theatre.

Unlike Dickens’ version of events, there are no ghastly ghosts that come to haunt the Scrooge-like character, just jolly, slightly foul-mouthed men who still believe they have a chance to make David see the error of his ways. Humor and lightheartedness abound in a play that could easily be much darker. The physical comedy, particularly of Timothy H. Lynch as Frank, is a delight. The gang of mildly crude men is balanced out by Sarah Chapin’s warm and cheery role as Simon’s fiancée, Anna. The performance of Taylor Witt as the bartender Bartek brings optimism and hope to the story — despite his poor treatment by David, Bartek holds fast to the idea that most people are fundamentally good at heart.

The story of An Irish Carol is simple and grounded in banter, wisecracks, and well wishes among friends. The audience gets to sit in on a chummy conversation among pals reminiscing about the good ol’ days, trying to remind David of his connection to friends and to the world. The Keegan Theatre provides a cozy and intimate place for this particular play to unfold, and I couldn’t imagine a more suitable venue. The experience felt truly akin to sitting in a beloved pub chatting with friends.

The frequent and precise changes in lighting from warm gold to icy blue illuminate the tone of each scene, reminding us that although this play has a lighthearted feel, there is still emotional depth to the story. While the cast may excel at bringing humor and joy to the stage, they are also clearly committed to the exploration of complex relationships and emotions. I was moved by Mick Tinder’s portrayal of Richard, an old friend of David’s who, amid his own personal sorrows, delivers what may be the final nudge to inspire David’s change.

An Irish Carol delivers in the most important ways: laughter, clever dialogue, and a beloved story with heart. The rollicking characters in this play are more memorable than those of other retellings, and for that, An Irish Carol is well worth a trip to The Keegan Theatre this holiday season.