Trust the Irish to put a bit of grain in the eggnog. “An Irish Carol” from the Keegan Theatre is sweet and cheerfully profane, a modest little 80-minute riff on Dickens set in a dingy, modern Dublin pub.
This new play by Matthew J. Keenan is best when nothing much is happening, which is most of the time. On Christmas Eve, a handful of locals toddle into a struggling bar run by an old sourpuss named David, and Keenan’s writing gets its energy from the friendly foul-mouthed ribbing that passes among the regulars. Of course, the cause of David’s crankiness gets dragged into the light, and lo, his spirit doth elevate in time for the great day.
Not much of a play, in other words, yet there’s something agreeable about the company “An Irish Carol” provides. Mark A. Rhea’s low-key production matches what Keenan’s script offers — an emphasis on understated banter, the mud-in-yer-eye jests the lads toss around over hoisted pints and whiskeys. The actors are mostly unfussy and sincere, with David Jourdan doing especially warm work as a good-time character who delivers a lot of jokes and exposition.
This slender show would probably be unthinkable, though, without Kevin Adams’s flinty turn as the bar owner. Adams is very good at what little he has to do — scowl and bark — which is lucky, because watching the story try to move is a bit like watching a robotic vacuum try to bump its way out of a corner. Eventually Keenan devises a not-quite-hostile offer from an old friend to buy the bar, a long-settled romantic rivalry and a letter from David’s old flame. Plot-wise, that’s about all she wrote.
Rhea’s simple set in the Church Street Theater is a densely decorated old bar; it’s Dickens through whiskey glasses. That’s the show: as diverting and consequential as a pop into the pub.
Pressley is a freelance writer.
by Matthew J. Keenan. Directed by Mark A. Rhea. Costumes, Kelly Peacock; lights, Dan Martin; sound design, Jake Null. With Josh Sticklin, Jon Townson, Mick Tinder, Timothy H. Lynch, Mike Kozemchak and Susan Marie Rhea. About 80 minutes. Through Dec. 31 at the Church Street Theater, 1742 Church St. NW. Call 703-892-0202 or visit keegantheatre.com.