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John gets to unpack a ton of emotional baggage: We can only hope he's lighter for losing this load. But these two visitors are also ghosts, Mark suggesting a phantom of the future unless he can break free from John's bad example of contempt for women, fear of failure and addiction to the oblivion of drink. Mary, of course, represents the past as, facing her flop of a father, she struggles to get beyond resentment and return to love. At the end we're left to wonder whether John, remembering the good deed that allowed him to find work and slow his self-destruction, will embrace, like Ebenezer, the world he turned his back on.
Unlike Dickens, this Carol bring no happy ending and, like its source, much of it consists of the three theatrical Rs—-reaction, remorse, and reflection. Indeed the best thing going in these lean and hungry 80 minutes is McPherson's grasp of the psychology of self-destruction: As a character John breaks no new ground but as a case history of a weak soul "dependent on drink" he's a virtual anthology of addictive behavior. In Amy Morton's sturdy staging William Petersen, Chicago favorite (and Grissom on CSI) has trouble holding his Irish accent but not conveying this battered wreck, a drunkard in despair with a hundred self-pitying excuses for every truth ignored. Stephen Louis Grush is solid as dangerously drifting Mark, a kid whose best course will be to avoid John's dogged pursuit of liquid salvation. ("Grab the nettle" is John's hardass solution for bad luck.) Nicole Wiesner's Mary achingly balances her accumulated anger against a gnawing need to forgive. If Dickens' parable of supernatural redemption is too much to hope for, McPherson's Carol is the one we deserve.
Editor's Note: For reviews of previous productions of this play in London and New York go here.
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