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Review: ‘Dublin Carol’ Gets Lost in Its Drink

Irish artists have long made great use of drink and its natural habitat, pubs, as lubricants for storytelling. One of Mr. McPherson’s best-known plays, “The Weir” — the immediate predecessor to “Dublin Carol” — is even set in a barroom.

But “Dublin Carol,” which premiered in New York in 2003 and is now revived by the Irish Repertory Theater, eschews the verbal fireworks booze so often encourages and fuels. Alcohol did not make John a charismatic raconteur; it made him a lonely, self-pitying sad sack estranged from his wife and two grown children. The director Ciarán O’Reilly and Mr. Bean approach both the play and the part in a — excuse the pun — sober manner that underlines the material’s unsentimental perspective. (Even the aforementioned scenic design, by Charlie Corcoran, narrowly avoids turning into a parody of working-class kitsch.)

“I wish I’d never been born,” John, at one point, tells his daughter, Mary (Sarah Street), who has come by to inform him that her mother is dying of cancer. The pair engage in wistful chitchat and reminiscences, but this isn’t an easy reunion — she recalls how her dad once took her to a pub when she was a young child, and he drank so much that he got into a brawl and fell on top of her.

The conversation with Mary is book-ended by two scenes with John’s young colleague, Mark (Cillian Hegarty). In the first, which takes place in the morning, the men are tentative, unsure of how to conduct small talk. John assures Mark that he still drinks, just not as much as he used to. Yet he is recovering from a hangover, and we see him hit the whiskey with Mary. By the third and final scene, when Mark returns in the late afternoon, John is so inebriated that he is staggering, and his mood has plummeted in parallel with the shrinking level inside the bottle of Jameson.

This is just one more day in a wrecked life, and ultimately the show wrings little out of John as a theatrical creation, proving that drinking can smother drama as well as people. Happily, it’s a fault Mr. McPherson corrected in his lovely Broadway-bound musical, “Girl from the North Country,” which, unlike “Dublin Carol,” draws a dark form of illumination and beauty out of loneliness and despair.

Dublin Carol
Through Nov. 10 at Irish Repertory Theater, Manhattan; 212-727-2737, irishrep.org. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.

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