Taking a brief hiatus from the hit television show C.S.I., William Petersen has returned to Steppenwolf Theatre, to reprise the role of John Plunkett in “Dublin Carol”. Written by playwright Conor McPherson and directed by ensemble member Amy Morton, “Dublin Carol” is a gritty story that delves into the awfulness of alcoholism and its effect on surrounding loved ones.
John Plunkett, who nearly destroyed his life with alcohol, centers the play, which takes place on Christmas Eve in a Dublin undertaker’s office where he has managed to find a steady paycheck. After not seeing him for nearly ten years, Mary (Nicole Wiesner), unexpectedly drops by to see her father, John, to give him the bad news that his wife, of which he is also estranged, is dying from cancer. This ignites the two into a flurry of dialogue mostly made up of painful memories, excuses and regrets. John’s darkest days of boozing may be behind him, although he still drinks heavily. Mary wants John to visit his wife in the hospital, but wants him to do so without alcohol on his breath, giving him the afternoon to refrain from any more drink and get himself together before she is to return to pick him up. Petersen’s portrayal of an alcoholic trying so desperately not to drink for just a few hours is gripping, especially when attempting to muster the courage to see his wife once more.
The three-character play also features Stephen Louis Grush as Mark, John’s young employee, who hangs around the office to listen to his boss’ stories and advice. Grush’s character, Mark, is important because it gives John someone in which he can again attempt to be fatherly and caring towards since he lost own family due to alcoholism.
Petersen’s performance is powerful. Conveyed in his character so well is a deep loneliness that is undoubtedly derived from the remorse and guilt one associates with alcoholism, that in John’s case resulted in the complete loss of family life. The seesaw battle between his conviction to change for the better and his slavery to the bottle is intriguing and, at times, difficult to watch. Petersen’s mannerisms are spot on and depict to perfection the desperation in his character, even in something as subtle as a quick, but anxious, glance at the bottle when no one else is looking. Nicole Wiesner is strong as John’s returning daughter, Mary, displaying a true sadness for her father, but at the same time the hope that he can still turn his life around.
Writer Conor McPherson was a victim of alcoholism himself. In “Dublin Carol” he is able to successfully communicate the austerity and bleakness that comes along with alcoholism and then leaves the audience with an ambiguous ending that, for some, eludes to the first steps of recovery, or to the less optimistic, a succumbing that will never be overcome.
“Dublin Carol” is a well-written and brilliantly acted play that, despite its serious overtones, also has a good share of witty humor. Now extended through January 4th, 2009, “Dublin Carol” is a show that can be enjoyed by anyone, whether the subject matter hits close to home or not.
For ticket and show time information call 312-335-1650 or go to www.steppenwolf.org.
*Conor McPherson’s “The Seafarer” will debut in Chicago at Steppenwolf (1650 N. Halsted St.) December 4th and will run through February 8th, 2009.