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Photo: Courtesy of Keegan Theatre
Photo: Courtesy of Keegan Theatre

Keegan Theatre’s Holiday Tradition Continues with An Irish Carol

It’s holiday time, which for patrons of Dupont Circle’s Keegan Theatre means a visit to a decked-out Dublin pub for a Christmas classic the way only the Irish can tell it, in the eighth annual staging of An Irish Carol. Written by real life Dubliner Matthew Keenan and directed by Mark Rhea (who also helped pen the script along with his wife Susan Marie Rhea), the play is loosely based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

“It’s more of an adult version and has lots of fun as well as poignant moments,” Rhea says. “In the end, it is about love and friendship and how both can help heal someone. We can all use some of that in our lives right about now.”

The show was first produced by Keegan in 2011, fulfilling a dream Rhea had for years – an Irish take on the Dickens’ tale set in a pub. Discussing his vision with Keenan over a pile of hot wings one night, the Irishman asked for a crack at it – and the rest is history.

Although Rhea and Keenan had some grand theatrical ideas, the more rationally minded Susan brought them down to earth and suggested “a really human version” without all the creepy sounds and big production elements.

From that came a charmingly profane story of a man transformed by love. The plot follows Dave, an ornery curmudgeon of a pub owner and Scrooge character, who is transformed through the words of his family and friends. Past, present and future are there, but in a more real sense.

“Originally, we weren’t sure how it would do in the DC area, but it was a huge success so we decided to continue it the next year and then it just kept being successful,” Rhea says. “The audience has continued to grow, so we’ll keep producing this little gem as long as they want to see it.”

Some casting changes occur each year to keep the show fresh, though the audience enjoys seeing the returning actors year after year – including Kevin Adams, who is back as Dave. Timothy H. Lynch plays Frank, a recurring role for the actor since the first production when he read an early draft and was immediately charmed.

“I’ll play this role as long as Keegan Theatre is willing to cast me and prop me up onstage,” Lynch says. “It makes me happy every year to start rehearsal and open the run. Matthew Keenan wrote a lovely play, one where every character matters. They’ve each been touched by Dave, and each touch him in their own, honest ways – ways that don’t get old.”

The actor says as the character continues to mature, he loves discovering new nuances about Frank.

“Year after year, I find a deeper connection to Frank,” he continues. “His arc through the play gives me so much to play with. His attitude, perspective and goals change over the course of the night, giving him an opportunity to reveal himself to Dave and the audience in an unexpected way. I just love the guy and am truly grateful to get to play the role.”

One of Lynch’s favorite things about being part of the production is listening to the stories of each character – the special moments shared each night between the actors and the audience.

“Every night, we [add] a new cast member [from] each new audience. Some can be uproarious, others quietly intense – still others are full of holiday spirit, happy to be together and having a great time. They make it an ever-fresh joy. We see many returning folks, and they bring new friends and family with them. It’s exciting to be part of a growing holiday tradition.”

In a season when most of the holiday fare is aimed at families, Lynch reiterates that An Irish Carol is for adults, which is welcoming to many.

“We’re feckin’ drinkin’ onstage. We’re spoutin’ feckin’ profanity onstage. We’re makin’ feckin’ fools of ourselves onstage. We’re working through honest emotions of people trying to make the best of their lives and trying to help a good, wounded friend. It’s written in an Irish vernacular by a native Dubliner. It’s truly funny and touching and has unexpected turns.”

Rhea shares that even after all these years, none of the actors onstage take it lightly. They’re all aiming for people to have a great time.

“We are pouring our hearts out there every year,” he says. “We love doing it and connecting with the audience each and every performance. It’s a special thing to have created a sort of legacy with this little gem of a show. Hell, it might outlast me, and I would be just fine with that.”

Catch An Irish Carol at Keegan Theatre from Thursday, December 13 through Monday, December 31. The run time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Tickets start at $40. For more information, visit www.keegantheatre.com.

Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com

Photo courtesy of Cameron Whitman
Photo courtesy of Cameron Whitman

Big Story, Intimate Setting: Chicago at Keegan Theatre

Pop, six, squish, uh uh, Cicero, Lipschitz! Those six words that are random on their own can be mistaken for non-other than the intro to the seductive “Cell Block Tango” of the infamous musical Chicago. The classic story of passion-induced crime and the lure of fame has made its way to DC at Keegan Theatre until April 14.

For those who may not have seen the musical on stage or the popular 2002 movie, Chicago was written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Set in the roaring twenties, the musical follows the story of Roxie Hart who has murdered a cheating lover. Her loyal husband Amos takes the blame for Roxie’s crime, but when he finds out she’s been playing him, Roxie is sent to jail. It’s there that she gets the help of crooked lawyer Billy Flynn and battles fellow convict Velma Kelly for the spotlight.

While Chicago has been done many times before and the story stays mostly the same, Keegan’s production will have a more authentic nature to the production. Maria Rizzo, who is playing Roxie, says that while the revival feels very modern with its costuming and the portrayal of the characters, Keegan’s production will feel a lot more like the real twenties.

As Kurt Boehm, who play Billy, puts it, “The revival had a very specific look to it and the dancing is pretty iconic with Fosse’s interpretation, so [we’re] really trying to step back into the time period and go with the vaudeville theme.”

Another element of Keegan’s production that you will not see from many others is intimacy.

“It’s this small space where you can really see so many details of the performer’s emotions and the storyline,” Rizzo says. The set is very spare and it’s just about these characters and the way they’re whittling through the journey that they’re all facing.”

Regardless of whether it’s being performed on a big stage or a small one, a modern interpretation or an authentic one, Chicago has remained a popular musical since it first hit the stage. In addition to the catchy songs and unforgettable choreography, part of its popularity comes from the story’s relevant message to today.

“At the beginning of the show there’s a line that says you’re about to step into a story about greed, betrayal and murder and all of these abrupt and scary things. There’s just so much of that going on in the world,” and it looks at how women are resilient despite these terrible things Rizzo says. “What’s cool about it is it’s not about getting a guy and it’s not about a big, happy ending. It’s about two women and the struggle that is put in front of them and how they fight through it.”

Catch Chicago at Keegan Theatre, running through April 14, 2018. Learn more here.

Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com