Play: “Abie’s Irish Rose”
Group: Act Inc.
Venue: Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, Wydown at Big Bend
Dates: June 19, 20, 21
Tickets: $18; contact 314-725-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Story: Solomon Levy has raised his son Abraham on his own since the death of his beloved wife many years before. Devoutly Jewish, Solomon has been displeased with the steady stream of young ladies, all Gentiles, whom Abie has dated. Abie is filled with trepidation, then, when he brings home his new bride, Rose Mary Murphy, to meet his dad, who is also his boss at the store where he works and which Solomon owns.
So much so, in fact, that he doesn’t tell his father about the civil marriage and instead introduces “Rosie Murfesky” to the great delight of his dad. Rosie also meets Solomon’s good friends, long-suffering Isaac Cohen and his ever-chattering wife, who had an appendectomy once upon a time and now incessantly recounts the procedure to anyone within earshot. Good-natured Rabbi Samuels gets to know Rosie as well.
As Abie and Rosie proceed with plans for a traditional Jewish wedding, wouldn’t you know that Rose Mary’s father, a Californian who also raised his daughter alone following his own wife’s death, arrives in New York City with the parish priest, Father Whalen, to attend his daughter’s nuptials, unaware she’s marrying a Jewish man. Just before the wedding, tempers flare, harsh words are spoken and in general life is a mess for Abie and Rose Mary. Will everything somehow work itself out?
Highlights: Act Inc. describes its mission as “When you’re looking forward to looking back,” and certainly lives up to its credo with this production. First produced back in 1922, Anne Nichols’ comedy, despite the disdain of critics, marched through 2,327 performances and was for several years the longest-running play on Broadway (it still ranks third). Director Steve Callahan was determined to resurrect this antique and, while it is far from entertaining from a modern perspective, it nonetheless is satisfying as a curio piece, a bit like a Faberge egg or Hummel figurine enacted upon the stage.
Other Info: It’s interesting to observe what audiences so lovingly adopted to their collective heart way back when. “Abie’s Irish Rose” is corny, calculated stuff that relies on bits of vaudeville schtick and a humor that bonded immigrants from various ethnic groups in the great “melting pot” of America.
Callahan keeps the show moving along in its old-fashioned way, including two intermissions between the three, 40-minute acts. Most importantly, he approaches the humor with respect rather than condescension, tipping his artistic cap to clever craftspeople who paved the way for future generations.
There really isn’t a lot to work with, but there are nice performances from all in the cast. Suzanne Greenwald in particular milks every bit of humor from the role of the exasperating Mrs. Cohen; seeing her reaction to Rose Mary’s request that she keep an eye on a cooking Christmas ham is a delight unto its own.
Ryan Cooper and Maggie Murphy are fun as the earnest young couple working to smooth the ruffled feathers of their headstrong fathers. Barry Hyatt and Jesse Russell have a grand time bellowing through their roles as the strong-willed Solomon Levy and Patrick Murphy, respectively, while Tom Kopp and Alan McClintock nicely fill the parts of the genial Rabbi Samuels and Father Whalen, respectively. Jim Hurley greatly enjoys his bit as the henpecked Mr. Cohen.
Jane Sulilvan outfits the cast in a Roaring ‘20s style, highlighted by Mrs. Cohen’s omnipresent fur, while Tim Poertner’s set design warmly conveys the cozy apartment of Solomon Levy, filled with knickknacks provided by properties mistress Emily Robinson, including a quaint Victrola, an old-fashioned phone and a delightful menagerie of yesteryear toys. Lighting is courtesy of Michael Sullivan and sound is provided by Chuck Lavazzi.
“Abie’s Irish Rose” offers a bit of theatrical history and is best viewed from that perspective. It rotates in repertory with Act Inc.’s other summer presentation, “The Cassilis Engagement,” through the month of June.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.