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Theater Review: ‘Celtic Tiger’ a wild ride that knocks you on yer . . .

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

CELTIC TIGER (ME ARSE), by Don Creedon. Directed by Neal Jones. Featuring Sean Power, John Keating, Paul Anthony McGrane, Siobhan Mahoney, ‘din Moloney, Anne Marie Scanlon and Fiona Walsh. At the Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st St. Through Oct. 17.

Don Creedon’s "Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)," at the Irish Arts Center through Oct. 17, is an affable, appealing, undisciplined, and most definitely unhousebroken puppy of a play, tugging at your trouser legs and nuzzling your ankles in its bid for attention and affection.

Creedon’s thesis appears to be that the Irish character is inherently ill-conceived to cope with the pressures placed upon it by the much-vaunted prosperity that has caused the country to be lumbered with the appellation, rapidly becoming something of a cliche, that provides the fast-moving little farce with its title, the first half of it anyway.

Set in Dublin as the current year approaches its close, the author makes his point through the familiar device of a returning native, in this case a young husband, Joe O’Brien, who finds the world that formed him shockingly altered and its inhabitants less than willing to readmit him with pleasure and affection.

Joe, adroitly played by the skillfully appealing Sean Power, has come back from New York with an American wife, Maria, and reasonable-seeming hopes of finding a good job in the "new" Ireland and picking up his life with his friends and his family more or less where he left off when he emigrated a few years earlier.

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He soon enough learns that his old pals Dommo (John Keating) and Liamo (Paul Anthony McGrane) regard him as something of an outsider, and feel that, if he’s come back to Ireland, it must be because he’s failed in America. The versatile Keating even sings a bit of the Kander and Ebb standard "New York, New York" at him, the bit claiming "if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere" to drive his point home.

In the second of the amiably ramshackle work’s six scenes, generally well-paced by director Neal Jones, Dommo and Liamo, watching a football match in "Dodie’s Pub," find themselves unable to remember the words of the Irish National Anthem, while Joe looks on, astounded by the number of foreign names and players with dark skins on the roster of the supposedly Irish team.

Jones, perhaps best known for his strong work as an actor in the Irish Arts Center’s production of Kenneth Branagh’s "Public Enemy" a few seasons ago, has cast Creedon’s play wisely and well, utilizing some of the most gifted performers to be found in the city’s Irish and Irish-American talent pool, including, in addition to those already mentioned, Siobhan Mahoney, ‘din Moloney and Fiona Walsh as the wives of, respectively, Joe, Dommo and Liamo, with the statuesque Anne Marie Scanlon turning in a strong cameo as Mrs. Bradshaw, the control-freak conformist next door, a walking argument for immediate relocation.

Moloney and Walsh double as a pair of offbeat nuns in Scene Five, while, a scene earlier, Keating and McGrane have appeared, somewhat confusingly, as a couple of Yank-styled employment interviewers who put poor Joe through his employment-seeking paces so relentlessly and so viciously that one female member of a recent audience cried out "Get out of there!" when the job applicant’s intense humiliation approached the level of unbearability.

The confusion in the double casting of actors Keating and McGrane in the "Human Resources Department," which supplies the location for the first scene after the intermission stems from the immediate impression the encounter’s first moments convey namely that time has passed, and Dommo and Liamo have somehow emerged from their larval state as layabouts and come into full bloom as genuine corporate killers.

Doubling, a device directors and playwrights often use in order to display the versatility of which actors are sometimes capable, much to the delight of audiences, in this case temporarily derails "Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)" and gives the production’s audiences a little too much time to think about what’s really going on, which, in the case of farce, is seldom if ever a particularly good idea.

Playwright Creedon, whose "The Lobby" got a well-regarded off-Broadway production several years ago, writes easily and gracefully, but, on the evidence of "Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)", he could do with some firm editorial help in the general area of taste, someone who could steer him away from obvious, exhausted jokes about the Thai capital city, Bangkok, to cite one example, or about human flatulence, to cite another.

Some of the play’s topical references may elude American and other non-Irish audiences, but a glossary in the middle of the Irish Arts Center program defines expressions such as "poxy swine," "fair whack to ya’," "Jackie’s Army," "Greenman," and "the kidnapping of Shergar," and identifies individuals like Eamon Dunphy and Jack Charlton, although a reference to the bad deeds and hard times of Charles Haughey goes unclarified.

Creedon despairs of an Ireland he sees as full of "cross dressers and gender benders," and a culture with an increasing fondness of "okra and seaweed" in its high-priced, overbooked trendoid restaurants, not to mention the chic types, including Barry and Dave, those employment interviewers from Scene Four, who frequent them.

He sees Ireland in general and Dublin in particular as "the new drug capital of Europe," and spares nothing and nobody, the McCourt Brothers included, as targets for his frequently slapdash humor.

"Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)" is in a decidedly developmental stage in this, its first staging, and the Irish Arts Center production, being basically a workshop situation, is very much bare bones, with cast members shifting the furniture in the half-dark between scenes and repositioning the hanging window drops that serve to indicate changes of scene.

Creedon’s frequently acerbic sense of humor and penchant for righteous outrage about the changes that have overtaken a country and a city he loves come shining through, despite a relatively primitive production situation, which is probably a healthy indication that "Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)", amusing and effective as it is in its present form, could profit enormously from a few healthy, rigorous rewrite sessions.

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