Size does matter desperately, it seems for the underendowed guys in a body-issues support group that meets each week at St. Sebastian's Catholic Church in Brooklyn Heights.

They are the characters in "The Irish Curse,'' Martin Casella's genial, surprisingly effective comedy-drama now on view at off-Broadway's Soho Playhouse.

The play may be formulaic in its structure. One by one, each man gets to tell his story, including the group's facilitator, a priest named Father Kevin. And the participants are a convenient cross section of physical and emotional types who, by the final curtain, have reaffirmed their bond of brotherhood.

 

But with the help of a uniformly appealing cast, the play makes for perfect popular entertainment, complete with the underlying message of not letting perceived physical limitations define who you are. It's a savvy mixture of laughs and seriousness, and director Matt Lenz has mined both with dexterity.

"The Irish Curse'' is the monicker used to describe a particular condition of these Irish-Americans (plus one lad from the Emerald Isle itself). And it's what has brought these men together for their weekly get-togethers.

The group includes a newcomer, the virginal Kieran, who's getting nervous about his impending marriage and, more important, his wedding night.

Kieran, portrayed with sweet-tempered anxiety by Roderick Hill, peppers the others with questions. And they have no trouble talking, each man eventually revealing his fears and foibles, most of them wrapped up in stereotypes that they all acknowledge often are true.

There's the swaggering Rick, who stuffs a sock down his pants to get a little extra oomph and who brags about his many sexual conquests despite having a steady girlfriend. Brian Leahy has the young man's bravado down just right.

That bravado is also present in Stephen, a handsome gay policeman, who finds anonymous sex the answer. The man has an unusual quandary: His studly good looks don't compensate for what he thinks is his most noticeable shortcoming. Austin Peck neatly encompasses the man's conflicting narcissism and neurotic insecurity.

Joseph is a prissy lawyer whose wife has left him for a more sexually adventurous man. He frets and fumes, filling up with anger. Dan Butler gets the man's explosive rage, directed not only at himself but also at others around him, just right.

As an antidote to all that emotion, Father Kevin is the perennial peacemaker, particularly in Scott Jaeck's ingratiating performance. The priest is a frustrated actor who has managed to score a few clerical cameos on "Law & Order,'' and he, too, has had his share of humiliation, including an encounter that eventually led him to the priesthood. But in a good way, he tells the men.

In the end, ``The Irish Curse'' is a very human and even humane play. You will find yourself rooting for these esteem-building sessions to succeed.

 

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