Every so often, a comedy is so enamored of its premise as to assume no additional effort is needed to put it over. Luke Yankee, scribe-helmer of “The Jesus Hickey,” seems so tickled by the notion of an Irish lass getting a love bite in the image of you-know-who that he trades on it shamelessly without exploring the situation’s dimensions, serious or comic. The mostly shallow results are on view at the Skylight.
Though the setting is depressed seaport town Sligo, the Flynn house’s mood couldn’t be more boisterous. Widower Sean (an amusingly frantic if unsympathetic Harry Hamlin) is a scheming blatherskite in the “Finian’s Rainbow” tradition, while daughter Agnes (Aviva) cherishes threadbare dreams of Hollywood celebrity, alternately egged on and scolded by potty-mouthed granny (Barbara Tarbuck, overacting like a banshee).
This is one of those Celtic yarns in which people keep saying “shite” and “feck” for shock value while a priest downs whiskey and Clancy Brothers tunes fill blackouts; in short, no cliche is too familiar for exclusion. The play kills time Emerald Isle-fashion until callow young eejit Seamus (Aaron Leddick) bestows the eponymous love token, which proves to possess not only Christ’s face but genuine healing power.
Here’s where you either forgive or reject the lapses of logic and taste. Agnes becomes an international sensation, out-Lourding Lourdes. If she’s curing cancer and AIDS — never mentioned, but she’s supposed to be the real deal, so grim diseases should fit her profile — that’s the stuff of black comedy or gut-wrenching drama. At the very least, her gift seems to demand delicate handling.
Yet the morally obtuse “Jesus Hickey” ignores its own weighty implications to wallow in more farcical cliche: A Paris sojourn includes a beret-sporting Frenchman in striped jumper with a handy baguette. Agnes starts longing for a boyfriend and a “real life,” as if she yearned to escape exploitation of her tap-dancing skills rather than her control over life and death. (The latter is offensively signified, whenever the ailing touch her neck, by a snippet of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.)
A last-minute twinge of conscience can’t redeem what’s come before, especially given the jaw-droppingly inappropriate ending.
Though the reliable Jeff McLaughlin contributes handsome design and lights, the highlight is the pairing of Aviva and Leddick, each sporting an impeccable brogue and utterly believable simplicity. They’re the true healers in an otherwise crass enterprise.