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'The Irish Curse' Hits TheatreWorks New Milford

By Jaime Ferris, The Housatonic Times


People from all walks of life have their own strengths and shortcomings, and, though we swear it's not true, our society is fixated on size. We want everything to be bigger than life, from our dessert portions and the TVs we watch, to our homes and bank accounts. But there is no luck of the Irish when it comes to the mythical "Irish curse."

No, it seems Irishmen are stuck with the short end of the stick regarding one particular anatomical shortcoming—at least that's the case in Martin Casella's witty and raucous "The Irish Curse," which opened last weekend at TheatreWorks New Milford.

What the curse is, exactly, is the hilarious centerpiece of Mr. Casella's humorous new play, which saw a staged reading at the theater two years ago this month. Size matters to the five Irish-Americans who meet weekly at a support group for men with small penises, who dare to ask a fundamental question men have asked since the beginning of time: "Do I measure up to the next guy?" Though the premise offers scathingly comic fodder, the modern comedy is also a poignant look at how men and society define masculinity.

The TheatreWorks' production is under the brilliant direction of Robin Frome, who assembled a dream cast that shines on stage, but "The Irish Curse" never quite rises to the occasion. Is it funny? Absolutely. Is it predictable? At times. But its biggest problem is the developing melodrama that grows increasingly unbelievable. In fact, some of the show's biggest revelations may be too much of a stretch for the imagination. It seemed a tad flaccid and contrived.

Nevertheless, it kept the opening night audience laughing, which included the playwright, who happened to be sitting front and center for the evening.

On one particular rainy Wednesday evening, members of a support group for Irish-American men who agonize over the reality of the Irish curse, are gathering for their weekly tirade. Every Wednesday, they meet in the basement of St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., where Fr. Kevin Shaunessy (Glenn R. Couture) offers them the opportunity to discuss how this alleged Irish trait has ruined their lives.

Regular members of the self-help group include Inwood-based lawyer Joseph Flaherty (Jonathan Ross); Staten Island sports-medicine student Rick Baldwin (James Hipp); and Bronx detective Stephen Flaherty. But everything changes when Keiran Reilly (Charles Roth), fresh off the boat from Éire, arrives and persuades each of the men to share their stories, revealing an emotional part of themselves they have never shown before.

The story unfolds through self-deprecating humor and quite a bit of over-sharing, but, despite the stereotype's stigma, the audience discovers each man is actually successful in his own social life. It becomes apparent that their collective shortcoming has become an emotional crutch upon which they lean to justify their emotional or relationship-related inadequacies.

Mr. Casella goes so far as to take the metaphor a step farther, suggesting our current societal reality exists because we are determined to lean on our society's shortcomings, rather than face them head on. In doing so, he asks the audience to define and, perhaps, redefine its ideas about social order, particularly masculinity, male identity and the relationships men face every day of their lives.

There is no question "The Irish Curse" is an actor's piece. Theatrically, it is rare for men to find really deep emotional roles, unless it is in something as heavy-handed as "Death of a Salesman." In this case, each character has the opportunity to share his own story through a touching monologue—with crazy little tangents added for good measure—that each of the actors delivers with aplomb.

All five actors command the spotlight, not one of them straying from character—from Mr. Ross' sweet Georgian drawl and Mr. Wright's Bronx inflection, to Mr. Roth's unmistakable Irish brogue. And with all of the melodrama, they never fall into the trap of sentimentality, which could have been very easy. Instead, they stay true to their characters.

Mr. Wright offers a wonderful turn as a promiscuous detective who's afraid of falling in love, as does Mr. Hipp as the cocky Rick and Mr. Ross as a devastated husband and father. Mr. Roth, making his TheatreWorks debut, demonstrated his acting chops quite nicely as Keiran, the newest member of the group, and the one who, effectually, gets the ball rolling for an evening of full disclosure.

Perhaps the most powerful monologue of the evening belonged to Mr. Couture as Father Shaunessy as he reveals for the first time, how the Irish curse changed his life forever. Mr. Couture should also be applauded for a set design that captures the very essence of a Catholic church basement, right down to the stained glass windows and table of rummage sale donations.

The play was brought to TheatreWorks by patron and executive producer and production underwriter, Tillie Page Laird, who first discovered the play in 2007; she was also a major investor in the Off-Broadway production when it opened on St. Patrick's Day 2010 at the SoHo Playhouse in New York. It saw a staged reading treatment at TheatreWorks three days before its debut that year, but she saw its potential and wished to see it mounted on the New Milford stage.

And potential there is for this comedy. TheatreWorks' "The Irish Curse" is a fun—albeit prickly—show that is sure to offer some laughs. Unfortunately, it falls a bit short of being great.

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