AN IRISH CAROL by Matthew J. Keenan, directed by Mark A. Rhea | Photo: Mike Kozemchak

DC Theatre Scene: AN IRISH CAROL

No holiday season would be complete without a viewing of Charles Dickens’ 176-year-old classic, A Christmas Carol. And while my heart will forever hold true to the George C. Scott movie-version of my youth, audiences around the world will suffer no shortage of options… At DC’s Keegan Theatre — the staging of An Irish Carol, written by company member and Dublin native Matthew J. Keenan, has been a tradition 9 years running.  Its taste? Flagrantly foul-mouthed and darkly funny. And decidedly adults-only.

In Keenan’s take, the soot-filled streets of Victorian London have been swapped for the warmly shabby interior of a traditional Irish pub on Christmas Eve. While we are told that the action takes place in “modern Dublin,” the audience never glimpses a world outside of the bar which, itself, feels trapped in time. The set (designed by Keenan himself) features a spare and tidy bar, uncluttered and unadorned, surrounded by well-worn wooden stools. Not even a display of liquor bottles, bar napkins or bar implements adds color to the drab atmosphere — much less any signs of impending holiday cheer. Yet, crammed in an attic space just above the stage are several lifetimes’ worth of stashed possessions: a child’s tricycle, forgotten musical instruments, Christmas decorations left to molder, a multitude of clocks and several pieces of precariously stacked furniture threatening to crash down, unbeknownst to the patrons’ below. It is as if the joyous clutter of childhood and messy exuberance of holidays past have been exiled from sight — and therefore from mind.

Pub-owner David (Kevin Adams) darkly broods at the one stand-alone table just out of the whistling draft of the outside door. As regulars begin to straggle into the bar, they remark that the confirmed “grumpy old man” (i.e., ‘Scrooge’) seems in lower spirits, and fouler mood, than ever. Indeed, Adams’ portrayal of the penny-pinching miser is more downtrodden, pitiable, and thereby more human than the traditional hard-nosed Scrooge. … Josh Adams brings charm and light humor to the role of Bartek, toeing the line with puppyish obedience. … Timothy Hayes Lynch is a standout as Frank, a longtime patron and affectionately dubbed ‘town drunk,’ who also provides a kind of institutional memory for the town and its inhabitants, David in particular. Lynch’s devilish delivery of quick comic barbs, playful penchant for the ladies, and steady decline into drunken buffoonery makes him an audience favorite.

An Irish Carol succeeds as a light-hearted, potty-mouthed, tongue-in-cheek romp through a tale that has become synonymous with not only Christmas, but the possibility of redemption and hope for a better future. And who among us (particularly in DC) couldn’t use a little of that, and some whiskey-fueled belly laughs, this holiday season.

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