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The Irish Curse’ Offers Laughs, Reflection And 'Magical Chemistry"

By Julie Stern, The Newtown Bee


NEW MILFORD – One of the pleasures of being a regional theater reviewer is the opportunity it affords to watch the same actors performing over a number of years and to see them get better and better at their craft. This was particularly evident at a performance last weekend by TheatreWorks New Milford, which is currently presenting Martin Casella's The Irish Curse. Continuing weekends until March 24, an ensemble cast of five seasoned veterans are playing off each other with such magical chemistry that the audience sits spellbound.

This is not a show for children: advertising flyers caution that it is meant for "mature adults only." An online Urban Dictionary explains (to those who didn't know) that the expression "Irish curse" is slang for being endowed with significantly undersized genitalia, a condition rumored to be a particular problem for men of Irish descent.

The play consists of a 90-minute session of a self-help group, held in the basement of a Brooklyn Church, where Joseph Flaherty, Rick Baldwin, and Steven Fitzgerald meet weekly, under the guidance of a priest, Father Kevin Shaunessy, to share their feelings of inadequacy, and listen to each other's rants.

On this particular night Father Shaunessy has brought in a newcomer, Kieran Reilly, a young immigrant from Dublin whose lack of knowledge of the "rules" leads him to ask provocative personal questions, and push the other men beyond their comfort limits, thereby creating the dramatic movement that raises Casella's work above the level of a one-gag sitcom.

Jonathan Ross is Joseph, a mournful, middle-aged real estate lawyer, whose genteel manners and southern accent reflect his Savannah, Georgia roots. Dressed in a rumpled suit, Joseph is deeply depressed by the fact that his wife abandoned him to run off with her personal trainer.

James Hipp is the edgy, boastful young jock Rick, immersed in his ball teams, his sports medicine studies at the College of Staten Island, and the "hottie" babes who populate his fantasies, at the expense of the girlfriend who lives with him.

Newtown's Michael Wright is the tall, tough, undercover cop, who also happens to be openly gay (to everyone except the policeman-father he shares a house with) and a sex addict, whose off-duty hours are spent in hundreds of anonymous encounters with men he connects with via the Internet or in bars.

Glen R. Couture is the kindly, rueful, well-meaning Father Kevin, in a ratty old sweater, fending off the arrival of the Rummage Sale ladies who want the basement at nine o'clock for their own meeting, and trying to keep the meeting within the bounds of civil discourse. (Are there certain words you shouldn't be saying in a church?)

Finally, Charles Roth is Keiran, the catalyst who prods each of the others to examine their behavior, and challenges the defenses with which they have embraced their positions. Who is Keiran? Why is he at this meeting? What does he have to offer these men, and how can they help him? It is these questions that give the play its punch, and also allows the actors to show their true range of character.

I'm sure part of this is due to having a strong and gifted director in Robin Frome, as well as a prolific and experienced playwright in Martin Casella, but in the end, for me, it was the acting that made it all work. This is definitely a play that will make you laugh, and then think, and then talk about it afterwards. But leave the kids home.

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