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Paulanne Simmons

You May Love "God Hates The Irish: The Ballad of Armless Johnny"

"God Hates The Irish: The Ballad Of Armless Johnny"
Directed by Will Frears
Rattlestick Theatre
224 Waverly Place (just west of Seventh Ave. between Perry and W. 11th St.)
Opened March 31, 2005, Closes April 24, 2005
Wed. thru Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
Tickets: $37.50, (212) 868-4444
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 7, 2006

(L to R) Lisa Altomare and Bill Thompson. "God Hates The Irish: The Ballad Of Armless Johnny."

The most important fact to remember about "God Hates the Irish: The Ballad of Armless Johnny" is that the production has a limited run at Rattlestick Theater, and if you don't want to miss it (you shouldn't) it would be best to book tickets as soon as you finish reading this review.

The second most important fact is that this show, with its dark humor, biting satire, exuberant obscenity and incredibly hilarious bad taste, may not be for everyone. But if you like your theater more than a little subversive and you know how to laugh in the face of catastrophe, this play is just your shot of (Irish) whiskey.

"God Hates The Irish: The Ballad of Armless Johnny" features Sean Cunningham's over-the-top book and zany lyrics, and Michael Friedman's music, which sounds a bit Irish without being Irish. It's directed by Will Frears with the zeal one supposes ten-year-olds exhibit when plucking the legs off insects.

It's also blessed with a spirited ensemble cast led by Bill Thompson (Armless Johnny) who tumbles around as if he cut his teeth as an acrobat in the circus, and a fantastic performance by Lisa Altomare as the unfortunate Ethiopian, Dinknesh.

The play is about Armless Johnny Kavanaugh, who lives in Northern Ireland and was born without those valuable appendages. His father (James A. Stephens) suspects Johnny may not be his child because he, his father, his grandfather, in fact all the Kavanaughs are missing only one arm, and anyway, the priest , well-known for the size of his member - was probably fooling around with Armless Johnny's raunchy mother (Altomare).

(L to R) - Anne Bobby, Lisa Altomare and Bill Thompson."God Hates The Irish: The Ballad of Armless Johnny." Written by Sean Cunningham, Music by Michael Friedman.

After Johnny's dad kills himself (with the help of his mom) Johnny has to leave town in a hurry. His subsequent travels take him to England where he meets royalty so inbred they've lost their knees, and Ethiopia, which he mistakes for New Jersey. Along the way his penis is cut off and given to him in a plastic container, which causes complications when he falls in love with a woman who demands three orgasms a day.

Johnny decides not to go to America, however, after learning about the country's checkered past and dubious present. But Johnny never loses his cheerful faith in mankind.

If there's something familiar about all this tasteless inanity, it might be because beneath Cunningham's book there lurks a much older book - that satire of satires, "Candide," written by the king of satire, Voltaire. One can easily believe if Voltaire could only have found a composer of Friedman's caliber this might have been what he'd have come up with.

There's a malicious twist of the knife that cuts to the heart of all the jokes in Cunningham's dialogue and lyrics - the old-style imperialism of the British, the new-style imperialism of the Americans, the human propensity of needing someone to look down on, the mindless violence that can become a way of life.

"God Hates the Irish: The Ballad of Armless Johnny" gives new meaning to the expression "I laughed until I cried." [Simmons]


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