Los Angeles Theater Review: THE IRISH CURSE (Odyssey Theatre in West L.A.)

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by Barnaby Hughes on July 11, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


When a new Godzilla movie came out in 1998 the marketing pundits urged, “Size does matter.” But when it comes to a woman’s sexual satisfaction with her partner’s penis size, apparently size doesn’t matter, at least, not to most women. Yet, many men seem to be obsessed with the size of their prick, either because it’s embarrassingly small or boastfully big. Martin Casella’s play The Irish Curse takes up a specific manifestation of this issue, namely a shortcoming thought to be common to men of Irish ethnicity. It is a portrait both wildly humorous and soul-searching of five men who fight, deride, challenge and support one another as each struggles not to be defined by his miniscule male member.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Odyssey's THE IRISH CURSEThe Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s production of The Irish Curse marks the California premiere of Casella’s play. Director Andrew Barnicle coaxes fantastic performances from his talented cast, who easily fill the sparsely-furnished stage with their rages, confessions and laughter. Scenic Designer Thomas A. Walsh has perfectly captured the play’s NYC Catholic church basement setting with its crucifix, statue, numerous folding chairs and table covered with coffee-making paraphernalia. It is there, in that gloomy setting on a rainy evening, that five men of Irish extraction meet to talk about their little “willies.” Watching Martin Casella’s play is like eavesdropping on an AA meeting, except that the action is so much more riveting. The 90-minute run time without intermission passes almost in the blink of an eye.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Odyssey's THE IRISH CURSEWhat makes The Irish Curse so enjoyable is not so much listening to grown men talk so openly about their sexual organs (although that still seems somewhat risqué), but hearing Martin Casella’s superlative dialogue. And it is a tribute to the cast that they can give voice to his words without sounding artificial or pretentious. Casella’s verbiage moves from self-deprecation and pornographic description to playful bantering with political commentary and ethnic stereotypes in between. His writing is well-paced and varied, too, with long monologues pierced by shouting matches and joke-telling one-upmanship. Some jibes are predictable, such as that the legendary drinking habits of Irishmen are one way of dealing with phallic inadequacy; similarly, the great number of Irish priests stems not from piety, but from the desire to avoid or hide from their “situation.” While the jokes are hilarious and cathartic, it is the serious side of the play that makes it truly stand out from comedies that are simply raunchy. Casella never belittles his characters or turns them into parodies of real persons, but lets them shine and sputter in all of their wounded and wonderful humanity.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Odyssey's THE IRISH CURSEThe Irish Curse features a varied cast of characters despite their shared maleness and Irish ethnicity. Father Kevin Shaunessy, played by Joe Pacheco, is the priest who hosts the meeting. Convincingly playing a priest is no easy feat, but Pacheco pulls it off with aplomb. Although he claims to simply be the meeting’s moderator, he reveals far more about his own sexual history at this meeting than he ever expected to. Rick Baldwin, (Austin Hébert) is a young sports medicine student from Staten Island who continually wears a jock strap stuffed with a tube sock and boasts of his frequent sexual congresses. In a stunning reversal, Hébert reveals that his character has only ever slept with one girl, his partner of four years and that they actually do have satisfying intercourse.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Odyssey's THE IRISH CURSEA gay cop from Brooklyn, Stephen Fitzgerald (Shaun O’Hagan) likes to describe his sexual encounters in detail. O’Hagan does an excellent job of portraying Stephen’s insecurity, which is such that he confines his sexual activities to giving blow jobs to nameless men. Scott Conte sensitively renders the role of divorced real estate attorney Joseph Flaherty, one of the more introverted men of the group; his wife of twenty years recently left him for a well-hung Italian. Finally, the red-headed Irishman Kieran Riley (Patrick Quinlan) is new to the group. He is the spark that ignites the fire, as he questions and challenges each man about his size, why he is at the meeting and how he found it. Quinlan’s performance is full of passion and vulnerability, which never gets tripped up on his character’s Irish accent.

Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema review of Odyssey's THE IRISH CURSEMartin Casella has written a masterful play full of well-drawn characters with real struggles. The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble has beautifully brought it to life. Sure, it is wildly hilarious at times (as well as disgusting), but it is the characterization so vividly expressed by the play’s cast that grabs and holds the audience. Although The Irish Curse may refer to a certain shortcoming of comic proportions, for Casella’s cast of characters, it is a very serious matter, the defining feature of their identities. Each one must learn to say, “I am not my cock.” It is a startling message for our sex-obsessed culture and a timely contribution to the current debate concerning masculinity.

photos by Ron Sossi

The Irish Curse
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in West Los Angeles
scheduled to end on August 26 EXTENDED through September 16, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.odysseytheatre.com

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