A shot of Frank Capra with your Charles Dickens? Both are served up in Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol – a small-scale sobering portrait of lives devastated by booze in a quietly affecting, beautifully acted Irish Repertory Theatre revival. The production, directed by Ciaran O’Reilly, comes 16 years after the play’s Off-Broadway premiere at the Atlantic. It’s Christmas Eve in Dublin in a drab funeral parlor office where jolly colored lights can’t cloak the sorrow, loneliness and regrets of John Plunkett (Jeffrey Bean). Now in his late 50s, this undertaker abandoned his wife and children many years ago for an affair with the bottle that is still going strong.
“I’ll die if I don’t drink this,” John says, pouring himself whiskey after a morning burial service. He’s talking to his young helper Mark (Cillian Hegarty), who gets an earful about how alcohol made his coworker into “a dirty filthy dirty man.” Then, A Christmas Carol-style, John faces his messy past. His sad daughter Mary (Sarah Street), who he’s not seen in a decade, arrives with news that his wife, her mother, is dying. She pleads with him to come home before it’s too late. “I wish I’d never been born,” wails John, echoing It’s a Wonderful Life. While that holiday classic delivers a happy ending, in the world of McPherson, a writer who can be as tough as he is tender, salvation is never a sure thing.