'The Irish Curse' opens in New Milford
The premise of Martin Casella's comedy "The Irish Curse" is that the presumably unfortunate genetic condition of having a small penis is reason enough to organize a support group whose five members can grouse about the blight that has brought them down at every turn in life.
The theme may be fodder for some stand-up comedian's occasional quips, but a full-length play?
Evidently, the tide of critical opinion since the debut of the comedy at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2005 has it that Casella's ode to the idea that size matters is indeed a successful venture.
It has been hailed as a "scathingly funny and poignant modern comedy," "sharp," "delightful" and "wonderful theater" with characters who are "well drawn and immensely endearing."
The sour critical notes – largely in the minority – are mordantly negative: "Mind-numbingly stupid" or "ham-fisted," "cliched" and "formulaic."
Playwright Casella, it seems, may also be cursed with a genetic failing: an inability to stimulate critical opinions other than those at the extreme poles of positive or negative reaction.
The former category of response was obviously in evidence on opening night of the play at New Milford's TheatreWorks. Audiences clearly were having a good time of it, judging by the howls of laughter that greeted what was happening on stage.
There is no denying Casella's gift for humorous one-liners, with which "The Irish Curse" abounds.
But there are stretches in the play that cause one to wince at the crassness of the dialogue, as when assessments of anatomical size make the rounds invidiously through comparisons of ethnic groups from eastern Europeans to African-Americans.
Another play vaguely reminiscent of Casella's comedy, Jason Miller's "That Championship Season," likewise contains broadsides against Jews, Poles, Italians, African-Americans and women.
Even while expressing the attitudes of fictional characters, they are delivered like cannon shots, the response to them often being on the shamefaced side.
In "The Irish Curse," five Irish-American men convene as a support group in the basement of St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Brooklyn Heights. Father Shaunessy (Glenn R. Couture) leads them in ventilating about how their meager anatomies have disadvantaged them.
Efforts to come to terms with being less endowed take the form of disparate coping strategies within the group, from padding the trousers or becoming abstinent to contemplating suicide
Rick (James Hipp) is a braggart in a long relationship with a woman despite a roving eye; Stephen (Michael Wright) is a gay and promiscuous undercover NYPD cop; Joseph (Jonathan Ross), whose wife has abandoned him and his daughters, traces his misfortune to biology being destiny; and Keiran (Charles Roth), a newcomer to the group, is on the verge of a meltdown fantasizing that his true love will come to reject him because of his diminutive member.
All of director Robin Frome's performers put in credible characterizations in a script much like our redoubtable, if undersize, organ. It has its ups and its downs.