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by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Playwright: Martin Casella. At: Level 11 Theatre at The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 708-831-3787;; $32. Runs through; June 12

I always thought I had eight inches, like every normal white guy. Then I saw a 10-inch porno star, and if he was 10 inches then I was only five inches. Of course, I'm a grower, not a shower. Size doesn't matter. It's not the meat, it's the motion and I really know how to use my four inches.

All these clichés and stereotypes are, uh, raised in Martin Casella's crisply written play The Irish Curse, and many more besides. I thought the Irish curse meant drinking ( it's mentioned briefly ) but, apparently, the curse relates to lack of size. I believe science has empirical evidence that endowments are not subject to race, religion or ethnicity, but popular cultural myths say otherwise and it appears that a number of Irishmen believe they are disadvantaged with regard to, um, membership.

So, Father Shaunessy ( James Bould ) uses his Brooklyn church to host a weekly support group for Irish males with size-related issues. The regulars are Joseph Flaherty ( Rob Grabowski ), an attorney and father of two; Rick Baldwin ( Logan Hulick ), a jock and sports medicine student; and Stephen Fitzgerald ( Neil O'Callaghan ), perhaps the most troubled figure as a gay undercover cop. Joining them is newbie Kieran Reilly ( Dennis Bisto ), a roofer who's the only one actually born in Ireland. The structure is simplicity itself, as each attendee introduces himself and speaks his mind. Because of the newbie, the three regulars repeat personal stories they've already told each other, and also Father Shaunessy opens up for the first time.

The 95-minute play swings between comedy and drama as all but Kieran recount humiliations and sexual rejection by others, and feelings of shame and inadequacy in themselves. Joseph's wife has divorced him for an Italian lover ( you know what they say about Italian men ), gay Stephen provides only anonymous blow jobs so he never has to undress, and Rick has a girlfriend but compulsively relates stories of other conquests. The final focus comes to Kieran, madly in love and engaged but still a virgin out of fear of rejection. Rick states the only and ultimate point: "The curse is not having a wee willie—it's letting a wee willie define your life."

Under director Justin Baldwin, all performances are on-the-money in a simple in-the-round staging. They enhance the distinct temperament and narrative voice Casella gives each character in his skillfully written text. The dialect work—especially O'Callaghan's New York cop and Bisto's Irish-born lad—is very good. The play occasionally is too raucous for the room's hard acoustics and clarity is lost. A little less volume would make these funny moments more effective.

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