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America /Seen Through Irish Eyes
"Mr. Dooley's America"
Directed by Charlotte Moore
The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd St. between 6th and 7th avenues
Opened Aug. 10, 2006
Tues thru Sat 8 p.m., matinees Wed., Sat., & Sun. 3 p.m.
$55 & $50 (212) 727-2737
Closes Sept. 10, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Aug. 24, 2006
Like so many plays by and about the Irish, "Mr. Dooley's America," in revival at The Irish Repertory Theatre, is set in a bar. Only this time the bar and the bartender were not created by playwrights Philip Dunne and Martin Blaine. They were the brainchild of the Chicago newspaperman Finely Peter Dunne.
At the turn of the last century, when he penned the first Dooley articles, Dunne was chief editorial writer for the Chicago Press. At first they were printed without a byline, supporting the fiction that they had been written by the bartender himself. But after 1899, when Dunne published a collection of his articles under the title "Mr. Dooley in Peace and War," the journalist became a national literary figure.
In 1976 screenwriter Philip Dunne and actor Martin Blaine teamed up to bring Mr. Dooley to life onstage. The result is something that is not exactly a play or a monologue. It is a mostly one-sided conversation in which Mr. Dooley (Vincent Dowling) amiably lectures one of his customers, Mr. Hennessy (Des Keogh) on everything from the behavior of kindergarteners to the fate of the world.
Finely Peter Dunne (also Des Keogh) appears several times during the play, principally to argue with his creation when he feels the opinionated bartender is getting out of hand.
"Mr. Dooley's America" has no plot, no central conflict, no resolution and no denouement. It fascinates because Dunne and Blaine knew how to do what Irishmen do best: talk. And this production succeeds delightfully thanks to Charlotte Moore's skillful and gentle direction and Keogh and Dowling's affable interaction.
Like most barroom philosophers, Mr. Dooley freely mixes cynicism, realism and idealism. He tells Mr. Hennessy, "The greatest crusades were over short distances… A little vice goes a long way toward making life bearable…The crusade is over before it starts."
Dooley and Hennessy worry over uncontrolled immigration, assaults on the English language ("When the American people get through with the English language, it will look as if it had been run over by a musical comedy"), laxity in raising children, marriage and divorce. They are troubled by the expansion of American power ("No matter whether the Constitution follows the flag or not, the Supreme Court follows the election returns") and wonder whether women will ever have the right to vote.
The Democratic Party is once again in a mess. It is disorderly, distracted and divided. But Mr. Dooley assures Mr. Hennessy that when times are bad people will return to the party they believe will take care of them (although he doesn't seem to have much more faith in politicians of any ilk).
Watching Dooley and Hennessy, once is often overcome by the feeling of deja vue. Which leads one to that other famous French saying: le plus ca change…
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