News & Articles
Letter from the Artistic Director on Dublin Carol
2008-2009, Volume 2
by Martha Lavey
This production of Dublin Carol represents a beautiful convergence of a series of artistic relationships at Steppenwolf. The first of those connections is to the playwright, Conor McPherson. We produced Conor's play, The Weir, on our twenty-fifth season with Amy Morton in her subscription series directing debut. Obviously, we are fans of Mr. McPherson's work: we are producing, simultaneously with Dublin Carol, his most recent play, The Seafarer in our Downstairs Theatre. We are honored to be able to offer you two of this remarkable writer's plays.
Amy, who did such a beautiful job with The Weir, returns to the world of Conor McPherson with her long-time friend and artistic colleague, William Petersen. Amy and Bill were original members of the Remains Theatre ensemble and have worked together many times as fellow actors. Long-time Steppenwolf audiences know Bill from his performances in Balm in Gilead and Fool For Love. Many of us have acted with him in theaters throughout Chicago. Amy and Bill's work on Dublin Carol began last season, when they did the play together at the Trinity Rep in Providence, Rhode Island, under the artistic directorship of Curt Columbus, former associate artistic director of Steppenwolf (and artistic intern at Remains when Amy and Billy were ensemble members there).
The two newer members of the Dublin Carol cast are also part of the network of artistic relationships. Stephen Grush returns to the Steppenwolf stage where he played Brandon Hardy in our production of Good Boys and True; and Nicole Weisner, long-time member of another Chicago ensemble, Trap Door, returns to Mr. McPherson's work after her performance in the Goodman production of his play, Shining City. So we undertake Dublin Carol with a rich history of artistic and personal relationships.
These long-time relationships serve Dublin Carol beautifully. The play is centered on the question of human intimacy. Our protagonist, John, a man in his late 50s, is compelled into a review of his life upon the return of his daughter, Mary, after a ten-year absence of communication. He is forced to acknowledge his reasons for leaving his family and the course his life has taken since that day. Mark, the young man he has hired to assist him in the funeral business which he has assumed, stands as a kind of surrogate son. Mark is a young man whose life is in front of him and so, serves as another reminder of what life offers in potential and what John’s life, sullied by drink and selfishness, refused.
Significantly, the play is set on Christmas Eve--from late morning to late afternoon. (You will notice that The Seafarer is another of McPherson's play set over Christmas). The symbology of Christmas, as both a religious and cultural holiday, is resonant. In the Christian religious tradition, Christmas Eve is the anticipatory moment of Christ's birth--the dawning of the savior, the moment when the world is healed. The calendar of the play, and the life of John await the redemptive moment: we turn the pages of the advent calendar to arrive at the day of Christ's birth when the promise of redemption is delivered.
As Amy points out, Dublin Carol is Conor McPherson's keen and ironic twist on the Dickens story, so beloved by Christmas celebrants throughout the theater-going world. Just like Christmas Carol, in Dublin Carol, the protagonist is visited by the ghosts of his past and future. Mary (who significantly shares a name with the mother of Jesus) serves as our Ghost of Christmas past: her presence compels John into an inventory of his life, the hurts he has suffered and delivered. Mark, his young assistant is our Ghost of Christmas Future: already, Mark, in breaking up with the young woman who loves him, is choosing solitude over intimacy; he is refusing the solace and the responsibility of love.
The play is a story of loneliness, and, as a riff on Christmas Carol, a cautionary tale. John has made a series of decisions throughout his life--choosing always his fear and isolation--that estrange him from any human connection. When, finally, desolate and shattered by drink, a man—significantly, Mark’s uncle Noel--offers him simple kindness, John is given his survival. Now Noel (fittingly, an evocation of Christmas in the name) lies near death in the hospital and John faces, again, his aloneness.
The play starts from this propitious moment: once again, John is alone as he was when Noel met him. His daughter returns with a simple request for his kindness. Will he reach out to another human being as Noel reached out to him? Has he understood the wisdom that Noel has extended to him--that our mutual salvation resides in our human connectedness?
At the play's end, we see the young Mark, heading out into the night. Mark, who has just related the story of his having broken up with his girlfriend until she emits a cry of such pain that he is drawn back to her, retracting his words; Mark, who will be visiting Noel in the hospital on Christmas with his mother. Mark, the young man who teetered on the edge of choosing solitude, making tentative steps into the future with a lover and family. Mark dons his Walkman and John asks him if the device includes a radio.
Mark: Oh yeah. I think there's nearly radios on all of them now.
John: You know if you're listening to the radio and there's all static and you put your hand on it.
Mark: Yeah, you earth it.
John: Yeah and there's a clear signal. It'd be great to be able to do that, wouldn't it? To people, I mean. To people.
It's a beautiful, simple expression of the play's wisdom: when there is static in the voice in our ear, we put our hand out for a clear signal. We earth it, as they say. We find ground in our connection.