”I am not my penis, I only think I am”
The Irish Curse, a play by Martin Casella just about to open at the Above the Stag theatre in Victoria, refers to a stereotype (hitherto unknown by me) that many Irish men have small genitalia. As such, it is, I imagine, similar to concept of The Vagina Monologues (although I’ve never seen it) in its frank and open discussion about sensitive issues of a genital nature.
In a Catholic church basement somewhere in New York, four Irish-Americans, jockstrap-stuffing sports science student Rick, neurotic lawyer and single father Joseph and sex-obsessed gay undercover cop Stephen, meet together regularly in a group set up by wannabe actor Father Kevin to discuss the one big issue that connects them all: their hang-ups about their hungness. When a fourth member Kieran, joins them fresh off the boat from Ireland, he acts as a catalyst for all of them to really examine why they are there and for some painful revelations.
What this results in, is essentially a set of monologues connected by some dodgy jokes and a thousand euphemisms for the penis. Each man has come up with his own coping mechanisms for dealing with life and intimacy, whether its promiscuity but only through oral sex; stuffing the jockstrap and boasting about imagined sexual encounters or simply retiring from the world of sexual contact. It has its fun in disabusing everyone of the promises made by any numbers of enhancement mechanisms and connecting almost any world event it cares to mention to the issue: apparently the Middle East conflict is all about who has the biggest one and the reason that Barack Obama is both so liked and feared is that he must be well hung.
The melodrama is taken just too far though in the pursuit of something more meaningful, resulting in some outlandish leaps into suggesting that the partner of one of the men would abandon her husband and two children in the most cruel and humiliating of manners as a direct result of his penis size without a single member of the group saying that there must have been more to it than that and I also had difficulties with the notion of suicide that crept its way into the discourse. It does have something to say about the role that group therapy has to play in dealing with issues that go far beyond the one for which they are actually attending but unlike most self-help groups where the subject or addiction can be controlled or given up, this is a matter of genetics and so the lack of genuine interaction with the stories being told by the other members of the group is a crucial oversight.
Francis Adams probably comes off best with his Southern gentleman Joseph being the closest thing to a realistic character on the stage and finding a real empathy, and Donal Cox also did well as Father Kevin the priest who appears to be content as observer and moderator until we discover he too has a story bursting to be released. The younger men have more difficulties as their personae are the more problematic: Kiel O’Shea’s Rick just about manages to convince, but James Bickmore-Hutt is miscast as the gay undercover cop, he’s just too young to play the hard-bitten NYPD part but does do well at elucidating the loneliness that often accompanies metropolitan gay living. And James Butler’s Kieran is ok but has little to do really and just reminded me so much of Adrian Scarborough in The Habit of Art screaming “I’m just a device”, when he is then given something of his own to do, it feels lifted out of a completely different play.
Although there’s some delving into the psychology behind the torment here, ultimately the play gives too much credence to the power behind the myth of the curse and not enough credit to the other factors around the lives of these men which I think are equally important, is Casella really suggesting that personal fulfilment can only come with a large penis, I hate the way a lifetime’s service as a priest is basically negated in this way. Fiona Russell’s church basement set was effectively dressed but ultimately I found very little to enjoy here: a weak play exacerbated by some poor directorial decisions.
Running time: 90 minutes
Programme cost: £1
Booking until 30th October
Note: predictably, there’s lots of adult humour in here