Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
People have always said that the heart of drama is conflict. 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.
---Conor McPherson (New York Times, 2/15/03)
Except for The Weir, all of Conor McPheron's work in New York has been staged Off-Broadway. The Weir's tenure at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theater where it felt rather small and lost bore out that for McPherson's intimate and basically plotless story-telling dramas Off-Broadway was a more natural habitat. The former Chelsea church that is now the Atlantic Theater is just such a habitat.
Though it's been three years since Lizzie Loveridge reviewed Dublin Carol during its much lauded London run, the play itself remains as she described it, and I have no argument with her assessment of it. Like my favorite McPherson play, St. Nicholas, Dublin Carol has a lot of humor. While it has more of a plot arc than usual (the three dualogues are structured into three scenes, the last of which is a conclusion even though not a slam-bang climax), the monologue that's Mc Pherson's forté still tugs at his sleeve demanding to take front and center stage.
Having seen Cox as the embittered and drunken theater critic in St. Nicholas, I can well imagine him giving a forceful performance as John. Fortunately, the Atlantic Theater Company's John is played by another strong McPherson interpreter, Jim Norton. Keith Nobbs has a less juicy role than his award-winning portrayal of a homosexual teenager on his first date (Four). As Mark, he serves mostly as John's sounding board, but he captures the half-interested, half-embarassed persona of the young man who's got his own concerns, mostly his relationship with his girl friend. Kerry O'Malley, last seen as the baker's wife in the Broadway revival of Into the Woods, is fine in conveying an impression reinforced by Ms. Gallagher's pinched face
and tense body language. as John's damaged daughter Mary.
Walt Divgler's set and Tyler Micoleau's lighting transform the Atlantic's stage into the inelegant and gloomy funeral parlor, its funereal aura heightened by the paltry Christmas decorations. McPherson directs his play gracefully, moving the actors around smoothly, their tea pouring and other actions never smacking of self-conscious busyness.
John's reasons for becoming a self-destructive drunkard are believable and understandable: " Boredom. Loneliness. A feeling of basically out of step with everybody else. Fear. Anxiety. Tension." If his no longer getting "pass out" drunk but still keeping a bottle handy, is a credibility stretch, you buy it because you want to believe not only that he'll stay in control, but that his visit to his dying wife will bring some sort of final redemption.
Dublin Carol isn't a lively entertainment that will have you at the edge of your seat. Think of it as a ninety minute walk through Ireland, and into the soul of a man trying to shake off remorse.
LINKS TO OTHER REVIEWS OF CONOR MCPHERSON PLAYS
This Lime Tree Bower
The Weir (NY)
Written and directed by Conor McPherson
Cast: Keith Nobbs, Jim Norton and Amy Ryan
Sets: Walt Divgler
Costumes: Kaye Voyce
Lighting Tyler Micolean
Sound: Scott Myers
Running Time: 90 minutes, without intermission
Atlantic Theater, 336 West 20th Street (8th & 9th Avenues), 212/239-6200 and www.atlantictheater.org
1/29/03-3/23/03; opening 2/20/03. Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm --$45.
--- Review of the London production by Lizzie Loveridge---
Conor McPherson's new play Dublin Carol was chosen to open the newly renovated Royal Court Theatre. It is about John Plunkett, a man in his fifties (Brian Cox) whose life spirals downward with alcoholism until Noel, a mortician, whom we never see, rescues him in an act of philanthropy. The set is a shabby undertaker's office, black bowler hats on the coat stand, back stairs for the staff, red carpeted stairs for the undertaker's clients and a meagre assortment of Christmas decorations. The structure is largely narrative.
Ah respect is no use to you when you're gone. If you don't earn it while you are alive, don't be looking for it just because you've happened to die. -- I just want to slip away, you know? Very quiet. Under cover of darkness. -- John
In the first act John talks to a youth, Mark (Andrew Scott) who happens to be Noel's nephew, about his descent, Noel's intervention and life as an undertaker. In the second, he receives a visit from his daughter Mary (Bronagh Gallagher) to ask him to visit the wife he abandoned years ago, who is now dying of cancer. In the third, Mark returns, having failed to finish with his girlfriend and John gives us his slant on relationships.
Conor McPherson's talent is for story telling in a rich and evocative style, set in Catholic Ireland with lashings of guilt, sin and redemption. John's guilt at leaving his family and self-disgust at engineering his own alcoholic downfall. Carol, also unseen, may be an allusion to Dickens as the play is set on Christmas Eve, but at one level, she is the woman who in "helping" John, also ensures his continued alcoholism, his "drink-angel." He describes their co-dependency, her role in picking him up and bringing him home and giving him more money to spend on booze; his role in ensuring that Carol did not have to live alone. A passage describing John's four day long hangover is searing and desperate. The metaphor of John, has been compared to that of Ireland as a nation, Catholic, irresponsible at times, sozzled in drink but for all that, charming and attractive and often very humorous.
The performances are convincing. Brian Cox may be a lonely man, anxious to relate his story to the younger man but he is never boring and often shows a wry humour. He stands, stock square, his features gnarled, occasionally removing his glasses to show us eyes filled with regret. The daughter is full of pain as she asks her father to visit her mother without ever accusing or remonstrating with him. Her hands show the tension, her face the distress. Under Ian Rickson's direction, the young man has that awkward and embarrassed stance of one listening politely.
I saw this play for the second time and it does improve on second viewing. Why? Partly because some of the direction has changed to clarify the ending, making it less ambiguous and partly because this second viewing afforded opportunity to reflect on its Irishness. Also, the new Royal Court Theatre has been very cleverly renovated to retain some of the original and the feel of an old building with all its mystique and thespian history. This gives McPherson's play an atmosphere which was not there in the makeshift staging in the dock at the Old Vic. The original horseshoe shape of the theatre has been kept, some of the old ironwork has been stripped of paint back to the bare metal and the new leather seats are blissfully comfortable. On Thursday night the capacious bar, which seemed to have been hollowed out of the earth under Sloane Square, was filled with theatre fraternity to celebrate the re-opening of this theatre which has a very special place in London's heart.
Written by Conor McPherson
With Bronagh Gallagher, Andrew Scott
Set Design: Rae Smith
Lighting Design: Paule Constable
Music: Stephen Warbeck
1 hours and thirty five minutes with no interval
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
based on 23rd February 2000 performance
at The Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1
Box Office 0207 565 5000
Performances to 18th March 2000
Mon - Sat 7.30pm, matinées Th, Sat 3.30pm
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