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.”


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