Keegan’s Profane, Lyrical ‘Irish Carol’

There was a time a while back — say, 2011 — when the Keegan Theatre folks were looking to do a holiday play that might endure. They knew they had to have at least the word ‘Christmas’ or ‘Nutcracker’ or something along those lines in a holiday play to make a go of it.

What they came up with was “An Irish Carol,” thematically linked to Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” The play, written by company member Matthew Keenan, is now in its sixth year. Infused periodically with new cast members, it deals with a disaffected and wealthy man who’s focused too much of his life on tending to his business and not enough on being a complete human being.

This being Keegan, the business is an Irish pub, owned by a fellow name of David. It’s Christmas and he’s on hand, looking after a number of his regulars and the occasional drop-in.

Timothy H. Lynch, a company member, has been in the production from the beginning, playing one of the patrons, a garrulous, hard-drinking fellow named Frank.

“We don’t really have a Tiny Tim in the play,” he says. “This is a little more adult than the Dickens Scrooge thing. Keenan wrote the play. It’s a beautiful thing and he’s so talented and we all hate him for it.

“There’s no real ghosts. There’s drinkers that are there to remind the owner, David, who’s played by Kevin Adams, what he’s given up by working so hard on the pub. He’s lost the love of his life over it — she married his friend and partner. It’s 30 years on, and he’s got a Polish bartender who he’s very hard on.

“Frank — that’s my character — he has more than a few drinks, and he’s the only guy who tells him what’s in store for him if he doesn’t start opening up a little. There’s a guy that comes in who wants to buy the pub, and he reminds David of himself as a youth, all business and confidence. And there’s the reminder of his lost love.

“It’s worked out very well. It’s become a tradition for us,” Lynch says. “An Irish Carol” runs through Dec. 31.

The Keegan Theatre used to operate out of Virginia, sometimes performing in the Church Street space near Dupont Circle it later bought, renovated and moved into. Founded and still run by Mark and Susan Rhea, Keegan has a lot of tradition, quite a bit of it dealing with the Irish spirit of storytelling. “It’s about that, for sure,” Lynch said, speaking of the company, “and a respect for acting and actors.”

“An Irish Carol” certainly has that, plus a profane and lyrical way with words. It’s a good fit with the Keegan repertoire, which has always been an Irish stew of mostly contemporary plays plus, usually, a tour presenting American classics in Ireland.

“We didn’t do it this time because Mark came down with pneumonia. We’ve done 14 tours like that,” Lynch said. “It’s about acting and story-telling. We’re not so much about fancy sets.”

Maybe not, but Keegan has shown a capacity to produce shows with big themes in a contemporary vein, mounting quite spectacular and memorable productions of musicals like “Hair” and “American Idiot.” As a company, they take on new plays and inject fresh energy into familiar plays, like the recent “Six Degrees of Separation.”

The redone theater has both a modern and an intimate feel to it. It’s welcoming, like the company itself. “You know what I really like about the company?” Lynch said. “It’s family to me. You have a very welcoming atmosphere here. People don’t judge you so much, not even in the auditioning process.”

Sounds sort of like an Irish pub, where people can tell an irascible publican, who might look and sound like a Scrooge, what for and why for.


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