Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Irish Curse: At Paper Wing Fremont

In the interest of full disclosure, I am preparing to direct my first show  with the same company responsible for this production. I have a clear business and personal relationship with Paper Wing Theatre and with various people involved with this particular production. I maintain this blog out of a personal interest in keeping my writing skills honed and in promoting the local arts in my immediate vicinity. If you believe this will color my opinion, there’s nothing I can say to change your mind- if you want to read my thoughts, by all means continue and see what I thought of this show.

“The Irish Curse”

Wee Willy Winkies are funny. Admit it- you’ve probably made a couple cliché jokes regarding a man’s car, the size of his feet, or his eagerness to carry a gun. It’s a pretty common thing- I use the word cliché for a reason, obviously. It’s virtually a stereotype- more on that term a little later. So Paper Wing Theatre’s Fremont Location plays host to a show devoted entirely to the Irish Curse and a support group for men whose package may be little more than the envelope found in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box.

The Irish Curse opened this past Friday and I was lucky enough to attend- Not only that, but I also won a free ticket, my family was out of town, and I needed a good laugh for the weekend. Now- if I want a good laugh there’s definitely one performer that I know who has done more to explore the nature of comedy as an art form than any other person I know. Jody Gilmore was advertised to be helming this puppy from the director’s seat and I have yet to see him go wrong with ANY show he’s ever been involved with. And he doesn’t fail to deliver here, either.

The ensemble cast are New York Irish men brought together by the genetic inconsistency regarding the size of particular body parts. They meet on a weekly basis and they discuss their problems, but it isn’t until the latest newcomer to the group arrives that the men are forced to expose far more than they thought they had- that their feelings run a little deeper than the resentment of God’s little “gift” and involves moments of shame, humiliation, depression, loneliness, and rage.

The group was started out of a dare between the groups two primary organizers, Father Kevin and Joseph, a middle aged and slightly uptown lawyer coping with the end of his marriage. Endlessly chatty and a little on the gullible side, Phil Livernois plays a ranting, raving, and emotionally damaged grump of a man with a bizarrely optimistic outlook on the direction of his life. He’s also the member of the group most willing to confront his demons head on despite (or perhaps in spite of) his nebbish nature. He’s bookended well by the youngest member of the group; Rick (played by Brian Benjamin Balistrari). He’s a brazen braggart boasting about one conquest after another to anyone that might listen. He stuffs his jock strap and has a girlfriend back home and he plays off Josef’s nebbishness and courage in reverse- he’s the first member to speak up and he’s the first person challenged to go a little deeper and expose more than he’s prepared to. And everyone gets in on the the discussion here, so don’t forget about Father Kevin (played by Richard Mueller). Even he has a few personal demons to exorcise on this rainy night.

Everyone has their story- and for every story there are questions, and that’s where Kieran comes in. 

Robert Feeney delivers his best performance to date. He’s been best known on the coast for is turn as “Trekkie” in the local production of Avenue Q, but I’ve never seen him tackle the range of a character like Keiran before. That he delivers such a nuanced performance with a thick Irish Brogue that never once threatens to spill out into Python-esque ridiculousness is testament alone to Feeney’s depth as a performer. But the nuances are what plays best- his sense of timing, his ability to expression emotions without a word, and the clear art of “listening” are what brings the character to life in the story. His character acts as a sort of audience surrogate at first, posing questions and then listening to the answers- but it’s that listening that brings him away from the audience. It’s the listening and the emotional impact of what he hears that lures the audience into identifying and caring about the group as a whole.

And for every good “hero” there has to be a good villain- LJ Brewer hits the ground running as an undercover NYPD officer whose life revolves around the Job and a series of meaningless flings with other men. Stephen’s a bitter, cynical, wise-cracking blowhard who lashes out at those around him with one biting insult after another. He’s an antagonist to the core- but maybe he doesn’t always want to be that- he’s forced to confront more of himself than he ever wanted when he’s repeatedly challenged by the other members of the group. And each of them regain a little more of their own self worth as they present their challenges- to stereotypes, religion, the authority of a police officer, the culture of sex in marketing, and the perception of society’s pressure around them.

Which brings me to my one problem with the script itself. As nearly every rant or assertion is met with a challenge, one politically pandering rant felt like it came straight out of left field (pun intended).  It’s met with cheers from a contingent of the paying audience, but it took me completely out of the story for a moment. Unlike so much of the play, it was met with no challenge, no discussion, and simply accepted as an “as is” sort of declaration. And let me be clear- I’ve never made it a secret where my own political inclinations lie, but I’m not usually prone to getting butt-hurt when a few lines of dialogue betray the playwright’s beliefs. I’ve even been in plays that were often very clearly leaning in a direction opposite of my own- but for a play that deals with challenges to nearly every other declaration, this brief moment took me out of the action that I thought it bore mentioning.

The Irish Curse is a funny play about men facing their insecurities. It’s deeply challenging but there’s plenty of comedy and camaraderie between the cast members that audience members can choose to accept the cigar for what it is. It continues to run throughout most of September at the Paper Wing Fremont location, Fridays and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM. The language and graphic subject matter may not be appropriate for younger audiences.

4 out of 5.

(Back there was an attempt at making a Freudian joke- it relies very heavily on my reader being aware that Freud once said “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”- this was clearly meant to be a joke regarding the phallic nature of his interpretations. It’s a not-too-obscure reference but one that I felt may require explanation so that you, my dear faceless reader, might not feel too lost. You must completely forget that my over-explaining the joke undoubtedly destroyed any shred of humor that may have been in that all so brief and yet overly explained moment in reading the review… PS. I’m not doing this for word count, but rather because I’m writing most of this as a stream of conscious thought.)

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