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|A CurtainUp Review
By Jana J. Monji
The glorious uncertainty in Brinsley MacNamara's play is the lure of betting on horse races. In the American premiere production presented by the Victory Theatre Center and Black Emerald Productions in Burbank, director Timothy Ford Hannon is a bit lax in his pacing, but on whole the cast is charming enough for one to forgive this indulgence.
If you wonder about the general premise of showing the Irish men as a bit unreliable--betting away the monies of a struggling tavern and drinking a wee bit too much, keep in mind that this is also a revival written by an Irishman. According to the program notes, this comedy kept the Abbey Theatre in Dublin "solvent between 1918 and 1955."
Tavern owner, Gabriel Cunneen (Barry Lynch) has been betting on horse races in England guided by the bad advice of his friends, Sam Price (Steve Gunning) and former jockey Simie (Austin Grehan). His wife Julia (Kathleen M. Darcy) worries about their finances and the prospects of their only child, Susie (Janine Eser). Two farmers (Dan Conroy and Dan Harper) vie for her affections and she promises them that the winner of the local amateur race will be her future husband. But the Cunneens have a temporary lodger, a well-to-do Englishman, Smith-Willoughby (Christopher Rydman), who is on holiday and suitably impresses Susie. This lodger -- along with Gabriel, Sam and Simie -- plan to rig the local race so they can get a cash bonanza.
As Gabriel, Lynch is suitably filled with bluster and yet remains likeable. Grehan has the slither of a weasel as Simie--a man who has lost his original occupation, but attempts to use his experience to captivate a limited audience who feverishly come back despite the meager returns on his advice. Grehan also gives him a wistful ghost of integrity. Eser's Susie is aptly flirtacious and transitions seamlessly into a sweet shyness toward her true love interest. Conroy and Harper are deliciously dense and determined as Susie's earnest local suitors. Rydman as the gallant Englishman who saves the day is suitably mystified at the local customs and heroically bland in contrast to the more colorful Irish characters.
The pace most notably lags when the actual race is run. After all, this is a comedy and we all know the ending will be happy. It's the journey along the way that's important, but Hannon allows a few too many distractions: long moments of business for character development and too many lulls in the pace. His chief problem is that he allows the actors to have too much fun with the characters.
The flaws don't keep this from being a delightful little romp that plays out entertainingly in a well-appointed Irish bar set.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. >Click image to buy.
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