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This review by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
December 22, 1999. All rights reserved.
Review: `Abie’s Irish Rose’
The bloom is still on "Abie’s Irish Rose."
This legendary 1922 comedy by Anne Nichols had one of Broadway’s
runs — 2,327 performances. Now, at century’s turn it is being
revived at Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell, where it runs until
January 22. The play became a novel, a radio program, was twice made
into a movie (1928 and 1946) and twice revived as a play (1937 and
1954). Based on an actual incident, it made a fortune for its author
and became known as "the million dollar play."
While some of its humor is painted in broad strokes, it deals with
enduring concerns of religion and ethnicity, and its comic lines come
out of character, albeit stereotyped and fixed character. The play,
the original Catholic-Jewish love story, is as producers Bob and Julie
Thick acknowledge, "an old chestnut," and is rarely revived.
Perhaps it’s the offensive stereotypes of the Cohens at the opening
that have kept it from being staged in our politically-correct era.
But these concerns soon pale, and the play is hilarious.
About a young man and woman in love, each with a father resolute in
his ethnicity (both mothers are dead), the play is an updated, treacly
sweet "Romeo and Juliet" — without the poetry and with
an upbeat ending that is too simplistic. No matter: on the night I
attended the audience hugely enjoyed the play.
Originally Nichols called the play "Marriage in Triplicate."
The young couple is married secretly by a Methodist minister before
the play begins. Marriage Number One. Marriages Number Two (by a
set up by Solomon Levy) and Three (by a priest, urged by Rose Mary)
are the stuff of Act II. While Act III, set a year later, may be a
little too pat (no pun intended) in its resolution, it provokes
The play was written just four years after the end of World War I,
the period during which its main character, Abie, met Rose Mary, an
entertainer, in France. The play’s two clergy, who also its most sane
observers, met there, too. They helped each other’s dying; for as
Father Whalen says, "All faiths and creeds have the same
Abie’s Irish Rose isn’t. She is either Rose Mary Murphy, called Rose
Mary (her birth name and the name her Irish father knows her as) or
Rosie Murphyski, the name Abie assigns her when he presents her to
his father. She is also Mrs. Abraham Levy. Nichols had the good
sense to have the couple already married at the play’s outset,
setting up suspense. The couple tries to make Abie’s father, an
and splenetic gray-bearded gentleman who wants his son to get married,
but only to a Jewish girl, come to like the woman he thinks is named
Rosie before he finds out she’s not Jewish.
Names are important in this play. They provide the deception, the
realizations, and the final reconciliation. And they instantly type
the characters. The Jewish characters are named "Levy" and
"Cohen," the rabbi is Dr. Solomon. The Irish characters are
named "Murphy," the priest is "Father Whalen." And
names provide food for comedy (and more plot). When the Jewish
marriage is ruled invalid because Abraham Levy married Rosie
Abie speaks up that they are married anyway: "I married Rose Mary
Murphy one week ago in Jersey City." The deflated Solomon Levy
comments, "I never did like that town." And finally, it is
the names "Rebecca" (after Sol’s dead wife) and
(after Rose Mary’s father) that bring the fathers together, to calling
each other "Sol" and "Pat." The names alone signify
character change and bring instant audience laughter.
Doug Kline as Abie’s explosive but tender father, Solomon Levy, is
outstanding. His face registers his many emotions; his arms are flung
out in convincing, demonstrative gestures. His "Oy!" is
enough. And they rile the other father, Patrick Murphy, played in
perfect Irish accent and fury by Vince Mancini. Seeing orange trees,
Murphy, expecting a Catholic son-in-law, exclaims, in another comic
line, "My God, she’s marrying a Protestant!" Some of the
scenes are between the two bitterly warring fathers. Suzanne Houston,
lovely and blonde, is charming as sweet Rose Mary. Michael Lawrence
as an unattractive Isaac Cohen uses his rubbery face to underscore
his fine comic timing.
A few critical carps: Would Patrick be told about his daughter’s
wedding, and so be coming to New York from California, if Rose Mary
is afraid to have him there? Would Sol, still an unbending Jewish
father, put presents for his supposed grandson under a Christmas tree?
And wouldn’t he want a bris? Where’s the menorah? Would Mrs. Cohen
come out bearing a ham?
After the play, my husband notes, "The Jews make all the
Oy! (Note that the author’s name is Nichols.) Anyway, enjoy!
— Joan Crespi
Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $20.50 and $22. Friday
Sunday, to January 22.
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