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A CurtainUp Review
The Irish Curse
By Michael Walek
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the legend goes that Irish men have exceptionally small penises. The group in Martin Casella's play meets every week, in a Catholic church in Brooklyn. The play unfolds over one such night which makes some of the plot points hard to digest. The group includes Joseph (Dan Butler) a middle-age man whose wife walked out on him and their two daughters because she met a more endowed lover. There's also Stephen (Austin Peck), a gay cop who only gives blow-jobs because he is so humiliated by his size. Group member Rick (Brian Leahy) solves his problem by wearing a jock stuffed with a loosely rolled sock. They are all guided by Father Kevin Shaunessy, a kindly priest (the charming Scott Jaeck) who keeps them in line. On the night we meet the group, they are joined by a new member (pardon the pun)— Kieran (Roderick Hill) who turns out to be mostly a device to get everyone to tell their stories.
Part of the fun is seeing such disparate people: a macho gay man and a priest who has been on Law & Order, but the playwright falls back on a few too many stereotypes. The gay man who can't be intimate and the straight man who boasts too much about his sexual conquests feel a little pat. Luckily the performers are strong enough to steer their characters away from cliché
All the men seep charm, except Hill who, as mentioned earlier until the very end is just an Irish accent to talk about l the impact the "curse" has had on their lives. The priest's story is particularly moving. He chose his career because he felt that he could never be intimate with a woman. When Joseph describes the pain he suffered as his wife described in detail the features of her new lover, it's more poignant than funny.
The most fascinating aspect of the play is the men's honesty about their body issues. It's a rare glimpse into masculinity. Physically the men who range from studly to balding, but all feel that they aren't real men. It's an original conceit.
When the men share their fears and shame the play is riveting. It's too bad that the author, instead of mining these moments, too often undercuts them with an easy gag. I was left wondering what constitutes a real men to this group. Their feeling inadequate because of their build, left me wondering where in pop culture do they get their definition of adequacy— Is Stephen's definition different from Joseph's? Is size all that makes a man? Unfortunately these questions are brushed over in the interest of another joke, as when the men agree that all the wars in history started because of men's penis envy or they declare the reason Republicans don't like Obama is because of his size.
Credit the talent of director Matt Lenz and his ensemble for raising The Irish Curse above some of its more embarrassing moments and keeping the audience engaged. Brian Leahy and Austin Peck do very good jobs of playing variations on the Lothario theme. Dan Butler at first seems a little shaky, but he gains in confidence towards the end when he gets to take center stage. Roderick Hill does well with the little bit of monologue he gets, but his character's story seems to be in another play.
At the performance I attended, everyone in the theater seemed to be rooting for these men. Certainly, it's hard not to feel something towards them when they are sharing the most intimate events of their lives. Too bad that the ending is way too far fetched and not rooted in anything that has come before. I think if the playwright had not introduced quite so many plot devices, the audience would be happy just seeing the men talk. The excellent set by Lauren Helpern establishes the mood well. Michael McDonald's simple costumes and Traci Klainer's also serve the piece.