Christmas in July!

To celebrate Christmas in July, I bring you a review of Dublin Carol by Conor McPherson.
Santa might be on vacation, but the Undermain is still hard at work!

Santa might be on vacation, but the Undermain is still hard at work!

Christmas Eve brings anything but cheer to an undertaker’s office in Ireland. McPherson’s characters deal with alcoholism, regret, estranged family ties, illness, infidelity, and the strength it takes to keep living. This morbid comedy sharply reminds us that at Christmas time, anything is possible…including misfortune.

Photo from Steppenwolf Theatre's 2008 production of Dublin Carol

Photo from Steppenwolf Theatre’s 2008 production of Dublin Carol

John is an employee at the office. John is assisted by twenty-year-old Mark, whose Uncle Noel, the owner of the office, is currently in hospital. Mark’s assistance is not the only thing unusual about today. Unhappy news arrives from the visit of John’s daughter, Mary, and all three characters continue on a journey of self-discovery, confronting demons from their pasts, and striving to find hope in their bleak reality.
McPherson writes characters with intense dimension. I found myself attaching most to John, who is the only character present in all three acts. John is a contented alcoholic who goes through almost an entire bottle of whiskey in the play’s 9-hour time frame. His relationships with his wife and daughter have been estranged due to his drinking, and what we see is a broken, apologetic man who cannot (or will not) change his ways. Speaking to the younger characters, John tells heartbreakingly honest stories which give fascinating insight into the life of an addict. John says, “I can hardly remember anything. I was in a very bad state. I don’t want to make any excuses, but Jesus Christ! I was in hell. I was in agony. And nobody knew.” Yet his problem is not entirely in the past. Although John admits that drinking has caused him immense pain, he continues to hit the bottle at every opportunity. “Just put a drop in my tea.” What we see is a disgusting and amusing reflection of ourselves: the contradictions of being human.

Playwright Conor McPherson

Playwright Conor McPherson

Conor McPherson is an award-winning Irish playwright and director best known for The Weir, which won him the 1999 Laurence Olivier Award for Play of the Year. Undermain has produced two of McPherson’s plays, St. Nicholas and Shining City.  McPherson’s other works include This Lime Tree Bower, St. Nicholas, The Good Thief, and Rum and Vodka.
Undermain’s own Bruce DuBose is an advocate of the playwright’s works which explore the tragic form. DuBose appreciates McPherson’s depiction of character who have’ “wounds” which are exposed through the stories that they tell. In typical Irish fashion, those wounds are “buttressed by humor,” as DuBose puts it. “It’s like laughing in the face of death.”