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Overcoming ‘The Irish Curse’ at BUA

“The Irish Curse,” a 2006 comedy by Martin Casella about a support group for men with less than impressive endowments, opened to gales of laughter last Friday in the packed Buffalo United Artists Theatre on Chippewa Street.

The play’s five genetically disadvantaged characters, each one a sad sack with a heart of gold, told alternately side-splitting and wistful stories about their experiences on the short end of the proverbial stick.

And somewhere, Eve Ensler rolled her eyes.

This strictly R-rated and often riotously funny play trades the self-righteousness of Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” for the self-deprecating frankness of Casella’s doleful quintet.

It’s led by a Catholic priest (Dave Hayes), who founded the group and runs it out of the community room in his church. The rest of the group consists of a married womanizer (Michael Seitz) who stuffs socks in his shorts to impress women on the city bus; a gay cop and sex addict (Matthew Crehan Higgins) who can’t seem to make an emotional connection with anyone; a divorced lawyer (Kevin Craig) whose wife left him for another man; and a bashful newcomer (Jonathan Shuey) so ashamed of his problem that he has yet to reveal it to his soon-to-be wife.

Together, these men sing a collective ballad of anatomical despair, interrupted frequently with raunchy references to their individual plights and small successes. Anyone even remotely prudish would do well to avoid “The Irish Curse,” the sexual frankness of which is extraordinary even by Buffalo United Artists’ standards.

If you can get past the fantastic notion of five Irish Catholic guys getting together to talk about their feelings – which in my own Irish Catholic experience would not be likely – then you’ll be able to get a great deal out of the play. Casella’s one-liners, double entendres and witty asides (approximately zero of which are reprintable here) come fast and furious enough to keep you in stitches for the better part of the 90-minute show.

The production benefits tremendously from Drew McCabe’s zippy direction. The same goes for the its gifted cast of affable actors, each of whom imbues his character with an endearing and quirky personality. Seitz, who gets better and better in each subsequent appearance, is hilarious as the testosterone-fueled womanizer, pumping his fist and prattling on about his various fictional sexual conquests. Higgins aims right at the conflicted heart of his character, who can’t bring himself to acknowledge the connection between physical and emotional intimacy. Shuey does his best to animate the misty eyes of his thinly written character with a flicker of emotional honesty. And Craig nearly runs away with the show with his over-the-top performance as a cantankerous Southern-born lawyer struggling to pick up the pieces of his shattered life.

The show, of course, is about much more than mere anatomical shortcomings. And Casella ultimately manages, through alternately serious and witty dialogue that too often strains to be one or the other, to delve into notions of stereotyping, the influence of peers and parents, the stultifying effects of a size-obsessed society and even the nature of love.

This is not the stuff of art, nor does it strive to be. But with their side-splitting production, this director and cast prove that it’s not necessarily the script that matters – it’s what you do with it.

3 stars

What: “The Irish Curse”

When: Through Dec. 8

Where: Buffalo United Artists Theatre, 119 Chippewa St.

Tickets: $15 to $25

Info: 886-9239,