Curse of the Starving Class by Sam Shepard. The Abbey Theatre, Dublin.
Review: Matthew Lambert, or performance seen Saturday September 10.
Fiery curse played out with confident poise.
Sam Shepard’s plays are infused with a yearning for the Old West, a time when men were men, living off the land, at one with nature. Director Jimmy Fay captures this nostalgia with the confident poise of the experienced Shepard collaborator that he is. The backdrop is a sleepy, sweating desert, and the action plays out to a slow, heady blues rhythm.
Curse of the Starving Class tells the story of the Tates, a dysfunctional family in 1970s California, balancing on the edge of the poverty line. The son Wesley, sensitively portrayed by Ciaran O’Brien, embodies this nostalgia for a bygone era, a time when home was the unshakeable foundation of life, when a young man could look to his father for guidance.
Wesley’s mother, Ella, is more willing to embrace the future. Yet her bright-eyed hopefulness when she talks of selling the family home and moving away contrasts with the weary resignation with which she reacts to Wesley urinating on his sister Emma’s school work. Worn out by the destructive, and frequently bizarre, interactions of her family, we sense she no longer has the energy to protest.
Joe Hanley is terrific as the father, Weston, the antithesis of a stable parental role model. Far from protecting his family, he has smashed in the front door, blurring the gap between the dangerous unpredictability of the outside world and the supposed comfort of home. It is difficult to take one’s eyes off Hanley as he shambles around the stage, flushed with alcohol, crimson with simmering rage against a world slowly closing in on him.
Wesley thus finds himself thrust into the position of ‘man of the house’ but in reality, it is Wesley’s sister Emma who has inherited most from her father. Rose O’Loughlin, in an assured professional debut, captures both Emma’s sparkling intelligence and genetic tempestuousness.
Perhaps this is the eponymous curse: this fiery poison, this savage, animalistic will – dangerous both to herself and to others – which runs through Emma’s veins as fiercely as it flows through her father’s.
Ellis: Phelim drew
Weston: Joe Hanley
Ella: Andrea Irvine
Emerson: Laurence Kinlan
Malocm: Ronan Leahy
Wesley Ciaran O’Brien
Slater: Gerry O’Brien
Emma: Rose O’Louglin
Taylor: Enda Oates
Director: Jimmy Fay
Set Design: Brien Vahey
Costume Design: Joan Bergin
Lighting Design: Paul Keogan
Composer: Philip Stewart