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Theater Review: At Arts Center, the ‘Tiger’ bounds again

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

CELTIC TIGER (ME ARSE) by Don Creedon at Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st Street (thru late March 2000).

The 1999-2000 off-Broadway theatrical season may come to be known as The Great Irish Revival. First the Irish Repertory Theatre devoted six weeks or so to a successfully remounted version of Frank McCourt’s easygoing ethnic revue, "The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way."

Now, the Irish Arts Center, on West 51st Street, has revived Don Creedon’s equally affable knockabout farce,"Celtic Tiger (Me Arse,") for a return run which will last until the final days of March, and possibly longer, should box office activity hold up.

The Dublin-born Creedon, an actor with a decided penchant for swift and speakable stage dialogue, is a distinctly funny writer. He’s also an industrious one, a quality attested to by the fact that he’s done a considerable amount of rewriting, mainly with positive results, since the Irish Arts Center premiered his play in late September of last year.

Under the guidance of the same energetic director, Neal Jones, the show boasts the same strong cast, with the exception of one actress whose small role, that of a piously interfering neighbor, was eliminated in the process of revision. As things stand, "Celtic Tiger" has returned in a hyper-energized version that’s at times a little over the top, a situation not unusual in the world of farce, but at least as enjoyable as it was the first time around.

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Creedon is possessed of a quick wit, a wide and frequently updated frame of reference, and a razor-sharp, often lacerating satirical scalpel. What he doesn’t seem to have, or at least doesn’t have yet developed, is a rock-solid sense of structure.

"Celtic Tiger (Me Arse,") to give the work its full-length, preferred title, purports to be the story of an Irish native in his early thirties, having spent about a decade in the U.S., during which time he has acquired a spirited, attractive American wife, not to mention a certain number of vaguely American notions, decides to relocate to Dublin in the interests of taking part in the booming Irish economy.

That’s what playwright Creedon set out to write, and in the skilled, appealing actors director Jones has cast as the couple, Sean Power, eager as a puppy as Joe, and the lovely Siobhán Mahoney as the self-possessed Maria, he has a pair of performers who could very easily have gone the distance, if only they’d been handed the material.

Instead, however, the dextrous and nimble-witted playwright, who has chalked up considerable experience as an actor, notably in Janet Noble’s skilled play, "Away Alone," a decade or so ago on this same stage, again and again exercises his fondness for hit-and-run gag-writing, some examples of which he pulls off dazzlingly, while other forays into this breed of jokey self-indulgence result in cringe-making puns, including one tired old saw involving the name of the capital city of Thailand, and one or two others too gross to merit repetition.

Joe and Maria O’Brien tend, as a result, to be sidelined in favor of the company’s other actors, a gifted and winning quartet made up of John Keating, Paul Anthony McGrane, ‘din Moloney and Fiona Walsh. These four, winners one and all, are double-cast in flashy roles inclined to come across as vaudeville routines, rather than as legitimate textual strands woven into the fabric of a genuine work of theater, even a lowly farce, perhaps the least "respectable" member of the theatrical family.

Creedon is obviously aware of having initially provided the O’Briens, and the performers assigned with the task of bringing them to life, with decidedly short straws, and a good deal of his rewriting has clearly been structured in the hope of bringing them center stage and keeping them there for more of the scattershot, freestyle action of "Celtic Tiger."

In the Canadian-Irish Power, a sparkplug of an actor potentially capable of making a statement in any of the great clown roles, from Goldoni to Shakespeare to Beckett, he has a natural comic who could easily have gone anywhere the text might have taken him.

Unfortunately, even after some talented rewriting, Creedon’s Joe still slides out of the intense glare of the heart of the spotlight, while the doubled roles take stage.

Actresses Moloney and Walsh start out as the trendoid wives of a couple of sports-loving layabouts who were apparently Joe’s closest friends in his earlier Dublin days, and then, after the play’s single intermission, return as a couple of decidedly upscale nuns, dressed in mufti and seemingly blissfully unaware that their "occupation’ was ever encumbered by any religious entrapments.

The actresses, with Walsh cast as the relatively docile Sister Impartial and Moloney delivering a genuinely terrifying rendering of Mother Inferior, coax a string of nearly unbroken laughter from the Arts Center audience.

Moloney’s Inferior, a stick-thin, pants-wearing gorgon crowned by a swipe of platinum-blonde hair, a participant in a "13-step" recovery program of some sort, is a devastating departure from the actress’ most recent local appearance as a doomed Magdalene laundry slave in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s recent production of the poignant "Eclipsed."

McCrane and the lanky Keating are equally effective, first as Joe’s former buddies, Lismo and Dommo, the latter unfamiliar with the words of the Irish National Anthem, and then, in Act 2, as a pair of particularly obnoxious examples of the new Ireland’s breed of upscale entrepreneurs.

As Dave and Barry, McGrane and Keating score abundant points as a couple of shallow, pretentious interviewers determined to deny Joe O’Brien the place he seeks in "the new Ireland."

Creedon’s revivified Dublin is a world of cell phones in pink and green, temporarily desirable restaurants booked a year in advance, and snobby schools seeking to enroll their charges, if possible, before conception. His Dubliners tend to confuse the "peace process" with "processed peas," and to be uncaringly unfamiliar with doings north of the border, alas.

Creedon, though long a U.S. resident, appears to have a special gift to keeping abreast of current Dublin slang and gossip, much of which could easily pass unappreciated by American and other non-Irish audiences. With that in mind, the Arts Center’s producer, Pauline Turley, has provided program notes clarifying everything from "Choc-Ice" and "bangers" to "Greenman" and "Gárda Patrol," and from "Jackie’s Army" and "Eamon Dunphy" to the term "Sweeper" to the "kidnapping of Shergar," with stops along the way for such items as "Bog and "Bolloxed."

Don Creedon’s "Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)" may ramble and stagger here and there, but it offers a full measure of laughs for audiences willing to abandon their sense of what constitutes "the well-made play."

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