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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

longest

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

rabbi,

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

warm-hearted

laughter.

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

destination,

after all."

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

playwriting

sense to have the couple already married at the play’s outset,

immediately

setting up suspense. The couple tries to make Abie’s father, an

unshakable

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

(second)

marriage is ruled invalid because Abraham Levy married Rosie

Murphyski,

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

"Patrick"

(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

comment

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

funniest

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

(Jewish)

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

concessions."

Oy! (Note that the author’s name is Nichols.) Anyway, enjoy!

— Joan Crespi

Abie’s Irish Rose, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $20.50 and $22. Friday

through

Sunday, to January 22.


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