The Irish Curse/by Martin Casella/directed by Andrew Barnicle/Odyssey Theatre/through August 26
No, Martin Casella's The Irish Curse is not about drinking, although it is alluded to. It's about men and another serious issue, namely the size of their willy... and how a tiny penis can and has caused a raft of problems in the lives of many Irish Catholic men. Now onstage at the Odyssey, the play has spunky, fiery humor, a crafty analysis of contemporary relationships, both straight and gay...and an unexpecTed Keen exploration of how the issue affects our political and cultural world. It boasts a marvelous cast, evenly paced direction and, like The Vagina Monologues, about women and their issues, it should not be missed.
Set in Brooklyn Heights, New York three weekly regulars join Father Kevin Shaunessy (Joe Pacheco): Joseph Flaherty (Scott Conte), a lawyer, Rick Baldwin (Austin Hebert), a student in sports medecine, and Stephen Fitzgerald (Shaun O'Hagan), a gay cop. Father Kevin brings in newcomer Kieran Riley (Patrick Quinlan), a roofer recently transplanted from Ireland. It's a weekly discussion group for all, who, as mentioned before, have small penises. As part of the issue, there's the factor of loneliness that automatically plays into their lives. Joseph, for example, was happily married with two little girls, until his wife and he grew further and further apart; Stephen has anonymous sex only and refuses to have a relationship with anyone. Rick is so embarrassed he wears a sock in his crotch. Even quiet Father Kevin opens up for the first time at this meeting, due to Kieran's insistence that everyone airs their feelings in an effort to help him face a marriage that terrifies him. He truly loves his fiance but cannot tolerate the thought of her rejecting him. The funniest moments present themselves when the men must face macho habits honestly, like why men carry guns, or why they wage war. It is not hatred, but the unmitigated fear that others may have bigger endowments than they do. There's an allusion to those jealous of President Obama, because he is black - and all blacks are endowed!? - or of Clinton who has always remained cocky in his open display of sexual infidelities. And then labeling every nationality as to the size of their endowment - for example, the Irish, Chinese, Koreans on one side and Poles and Italians on the other. It's one hilarious pouring forth of male insecurity - funny, but simultaneously sad and unproductive. Where do thoughts of warmth and love figure into the big picture? Casella does not disappoint.
All the actors are superb. O'Hagan makes Stephen painfully almost pitifully aggressive; Hebert makes Rick overly pushy and obnoxious, yet in the long run brutally forthright in his attempts to adjust. These two are prone to shouting matches, and so it goes, as the actors hold nothing back. On the quieter side, Pacheco as Father Kevin, Quinlan as Kieran and Conte as Joseph all have their shining moments of sincerity about their uncertainty and discomfort. This is hardly a picnic - it's not Puppetry of the Penis - but a therapeutic, healing play in which honesty is at the core. And with honesty, anger and frustration come pouring out. In fact, as one of the men tells us, his brother tried to commit suicide, as did one of the fathers. Andrew Barnicle has directed the five men with great understanding, clarity and with a strong emphasis on heart. Thomas A. Walsh's scenic design of the parish's basement meeting hall is amazingly true to life.
The Irish Curse is a funny and stimulating evening of theatre, especially for men with problems of insecurity and for the women who love them in spite of it. As to the rest, you will all find something that rings familiar, for no one is perfect. As the saying goes: a big prick means a big prick.