As described, “The Irish Play,” the only title the earnest young yank has yet come up with, sounds a little like Sean O’Casey’s great “Shadow of a Gunman,” with its hero, a poetic young innocent who pretends to be, or perhaps merely longs to be, a political activist.
The “author” is one of the central figures in Tim McGillicuddy’s charming, insightful romantic comedy, also titled “The Irish Play,” currently being given a brief, brisk airing at on the stage of the Irish Arts Center on Manhattan’s West 5lst Street.
Cian is trying, without conspicuous success, to complete his play before he and his pregnant, Dublin-born girlfriend, Nora, take to the road. There are many too many distractions, with far too much going on in that modest dwelling to allow much time for writing.
For one thing, Liam, the Dublin lad with whom Cian shares the flat, is voluble to the point of being obsessive, equipped with an elaborate and fiercely held opinion on virtually every subject that might come up.
Liam also has a devoted and loyal girlfriend, Suzie, who doesn’t seem to mind his garrulousness, or perhaps doesn’t even notice it.
Cian’s and Nora’s shared goal is to get out of Dublin before her inquisitive father, McGillicuddy’s fifth and final character, on deck so briefly (played by Jimmy Kerr) that he remains unnamed, finds out about his daughter’s pregnancy.
“The Irish Play,” of course, belongs to its quartet of youthful strivers, and rightly so. Nora and Suzie are vastly more practical than the men to whom they are attached. Nora, no matter how frustrated or how enraged she is at any given moment, always seems able to remember to tell Cian not only to put the roast in the oven, but the precisely correct temperature at which to do it.
McGillicuddy’s women are, from the outset, more practical than his ebullient, stressed out, and self-obsessed men, who form the core of the play, particularly as cast and directed by Theodore Mann, best known as the co-founder and chief honcho of the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre and its attendant school.
The four young performers at the heart of “The Irish Play” are, for the most part and perhaps unsurprisingly, veterans of the Circle’s training division.
On one level, McGillicuddy’s affable, intelligent play is about youthful illusion and the seemingly inexhaustible capacity for self-deception the young so often manifest.
The hero, appealing Zachary Spicer, is finally forced to admit that he’s only one quarter Irish, and that his full name is actually John Cian McCrory, and that he’s stressed his middle name in order to seem more fully Irish.
Liam, the big talker — played by the baby-faced, bulky Jonathan P. Judge-Russo who brings an aching vulnerability to the role, enabling the audience to feel empathy for him — is in for a huge surprise on his birthday, the day on which McGillicuddy has set his play. He knows he was adopted as a child, but he always assumed himself to be a Dubliner, through and through. Meaning well, Suzie, as a birthday present for her boyfriend, does a document search and discovers that Liam’s name is really William, and that both of his biological parents were, in fact, entirely British, like it or not.
The mouthy Liam is fond of saying outrageous things, claiming, for example, that he could write a history of Ireland in the blood of a nun, using the collarbone of an altar boy as an implement.
McGillicuddy, a successful building contractor with a lifelong yen to write, will probably never be confused with George Bernard Shaw, but if his humor isn’t exactly Shavian, he does write with intelligence, wit, and, when it suits him, genuine compassion.