Portrait of the Alcoholic as a Middle-Aged Man

Dublin Carol

At Ensemble Theatre Company, Friday, April 14. Shows through May 7.

Reviewed by Bojana Hill

“I find that there’s enough conflict in one person to make a whole play — all those swings, the oscillation in the mind, the self-doubt, the uncertainty, the stupid courage, the terrible feelings of inadequacy — that’s more than enough.” It’s no wonder that playwright Conor McPherson, who made this statement a few years ago, has a penchant for writing monologues. McPherson’s three-person play, Dublin Carol, centers on the main character, John, who enjoys telling stories. This dramatic device will be familiar from McPherson’s earlier plays, such as the critically acclaimed St. Nicholas and The Weir. Dublin Carol is a portrait of an alcoholic as a middle-aged man: honest and dark, but funny — in that familiar Irish way.

John, a lonely undertaker’s assistant who spends his Christmas Eve in a Dublin mortician’s office with a bottle of Irish whiskey, is not exactly a Dickensian Scrooge. Nevertheless, he is similarly confronted with his less-than-admirable past. Unapologetic about his alcoholism, philandering, and the abandonment of his family, John tells Mark: “I am old — I’ll die if I don’t drink this!” Mark, who has just helped John conduct a funeral, is aptly described as “grave and somber,” but he is just 20 years old and he finds John “morbid.” Mark’s problems with his girlfriend are far more real to him than John’s midlife crisis.

In the second scene, John’s daughter Mary unexpectedly appears after a 10-year absence. Now John experiences a conflict which alcohol cannot numb: Should he visit his dying wife and attempt to reconcile with her, or should he remain defiantly unforgiving? “You want me to say I am sorry?!” he asks his daughter tauntingly, for he knows this would not be enough. Mary, however, assures him that her mother wishes to see him, and we sense that John, a ruin of a man, has another chance. At the play’s end, the lights are dimmed, and John decorates the office with Christmas lights, having previously removed them — they are a faint flicker of hope.

As John, Tom Dugan obviously has the most challenging task, and he accomplishes it. He delivers his humorous lines with punch, and is as convincing as a passed-out drunk as he is as a charming host who pours tea. Seth Compton is endearing as Mark, and Marianna Palka has a poised presence as Mary.

But McPherson is right. There is enough conflict in one person to create a play, or, in the words of William Faulkner, “the only thing worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat, is the heart in conflict with itself.”

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Goleta Target Store Confirmed

Set to open at Kmart location in 2019.

County Fire Chief Calls for More Fuel Breaks

Peterson wants to create a continuous front-country line from Montecito to Goleta.

Crime Rates Down, Youth Arrests Up in Santa Barbara County

A 'high percentage' of misdemeanor citations happen on school campuses.

Will Hollister Ranch Access Deal Hold Up Under Public Scrutiny?

State commissioners are taking a closer look at settlement over beach access to Santa Barbara County gated ...

Faced with a Gun, Sheriff’s Sergeant Holds His Fire

Sgt. Freddy Padilla reflects on potentially life-saving decisions during welfare call.