(The Odyssey Theatre) Four troubled guys meet in mutual support once a week in the basement of a Catholic church. Their moderator is a middle-aged priest. Their problem? No, not alcohol; nor are they drug addicts, nor food bingers. Four ordinary guys: a tall handsome policeman, a bald lawyer, a hot young student and a handsome, newly immigrated Irish laborer, as well as the priest himself, all suffer from “the Irish curse.”
And how shall I define the “curse?” The subject might be called the male counterpart of The Vagina Monologues… but it’s much more. The problem… actually, how shall I name it? Easy enough if I were a gal of this generation when sex talk is open and accepted. The age when Juno, with all its sexual implications, is a popular teen film. When Sex and the City is just ho-hum. When Amazon, along with books, sells sex toys online.
But I am the Old Broad, born in 1925. In my childhood, even to the time I was married, the subject of “it” (in film and stage) was absolutely taboo. When I was eight, in 1932, I saw my first Tarzan movie. And with childhood curiosity, I watched Johnny Weissmuller, wearing only his little leather “apron,” dive from a jungle tree into a pond. And the apron flew up, but not high enough for me to see, and trust me, I looked! In film, up until the sixties, any portrayal or even allusion to “it” was censored. All marriage beds were double, implication that married folk didn’t touch bodies in the same big bed and engage in “hanky panky.”
Actually not until the sixties when a play called You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running had a character appear onstage naked, facing front, was “it” revealed, and then with a lot of embarrassed discussion. With Sex and the City “it” finally made its way onscreen with one quick shot, and that subject was, if I may be a bit course and frank, “well hung.” And frankly “well hung” is the subject of the “Irish curse.” Because sufferers of that “curse” are not. It’s the “Monty” of Full Monty, but “not full” is the problem.
The “Irish curse” is a small weenie or as the characters in the play call it: a bottle cap, a cocktail weener, an anatomical curse from God: a three-inch penis. The interplay among the five characters is hysterically funny, as only unhappy sufferers trying to cover their embarrassment can manage.
Now, some of what follows might be construed as “spoilers” but don’t let it spoil the pleasure of discovering the subject onstage. The tall handsome policeman is gay and his sexual life is dominated by the desperate need not to reveal his condition. The bald lawyer has married an Irish Catholic girl and not until after they had two kids did she recognize that she’d been cheated, and fled to high pastures (or longer whatchamacallits.) The student wears a sock in his jocks to impress the ladies. And the Irish laborer is on the brink of a mortal sin, suicide: the next night is his wedding night and all… or lack of all... will be revealed.
The wild verbal encounters include male sexual stereotyping: The Irish, the Italians, the blacks. And the parallel between the strong and potent male you-know-what to guns, explosions, war in general as the playing out of the macho male and his dominance.
The four guys are well-played by four fine brave actors: Scott Conte, Austin Hebert, Shaun O’Hagan and the appealing just-arrived- from- Ireland guy by Patrick Quinlan. And the priest who makes frank disclosures of his own Irish curse by Joe Pacheco. Five fine performances.
The playwright has bravely attacked a serious (and easy to make fun of) problem, and although it seems parallel to The Vagina Monologues, it is much more than a frank approach to a topic no longer taboo. The obvious parallel is to both sexes who use anatomical failings to define themselves. Lose weight and find love and happiness. Enlarge your breasts. Get your hair back. Two days on a little machine and you’ll have those abs, which have gone to flab. It’s all a search for love, for admiration. We want to be the one chosen. And we all suffer from that curse. Okay, if not all, me. And I suspect… you.
And the poignancy of the play is the caring support these guys offer each other.
In the after-discussion, Casella revealed that the play, which appeared off-Broadway to great reviews, was hard to cast. The script was so frank that managers urged their clients to pass it. One reader began his audition and had to leave in embarrassment. And surprisingly, the play was actually presented in Dublin. The playwright was afraid to attend. He might be attacked in the street. Not so.
Anyone who has attended a Dublin theater festival knows that, despite the reality or stereotype of the Irish curse, the Irish love their theater, any good play, and I say good play. They are attentive theater-goers. The Irish Curse is a good play and was well-received.
Los Angeles had a vibrant theater… until the age of the computer screen, the cell phone, the IPad, the IPhone. Facebook. Twitter. Now it’s fast and furious… and here and now. Triviality claimed fast attention. We still have many fine small theaters, but viewers have TV and some really well-written shows at fingertips. Fast entertainment. Instant. Faster than instant. And now it’s hard to find audiences for thoughtful philosophic theater. And for a young audience who may not have experienced live theater… nothing like it.
The Irish Curse is fast, funny, explosive… and the subject is newly exposed (not a pun.) The subject, its parallels, its metaphors offer serious discussion long after the five brave actors take their well-deserved bows.
'The Irish Curse' continues its run at the Odyssey Theatre, Los Angeles August 26th 2012.