First a bit of Irish history. The Black and Tans were a force of mostly former soldiers enrolled in the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence. They were mostly British ex-service men, veterans of the vicious front of Western Europe, but a large number of Irishmen joined their ranks as well. While the Irish recruits were mainly Protestants from the North, there were Irish Catholics among them their number. There were even ten Brits of Jewish descent on the force.
What enticed the majority of these ex-soldiers to join was neither politics nor religion, but the pay. Ten shillings a day, which was handsome pay, especially to those returning from the horrors of trench warfare only to face daunting joblessness.
The Black and Tans served in Ireland from January of 1920 to July of 1921, after the Anglo-Irish Treaty of that same year.
The Irish War had been a conflict filled with atrocities on both sides, and the Black and Tans were guilty of some of the worst.
Corktown ’57, now at the Odyssey Theatre, while set in the Philadelphia of Eisenhower years, has its story rooted in the “Old Country” during the “Times of Trouble.”
It’s thirty years since the patriarch of the Keating clan Mike (Nick Tate) brought his wife and children state side. The youngest Frank (John Ruby) has done well for himself, though the recent death of their young daughter has put a strain on the relationship between him and his wife Janice (Natalie Britton).
While Mike has managed to escape from history, the rest of the family has not.
His father still harkens to his days with the IRA, while Frank’s sister Kaitlin (Rebecca Tilney) is an active fund raiser for the IRA, and his other sister, Marie (Belen Greene) is married to Claran (Kevin P. Kearns) a local union activist and fervent IRA supporter.
During the 1950s and up into the late 70s Eastern cities like Philadelphia had networks of Irish and Irish Americans who funneled financial aid to the cause of the IRA. Los Angeles had such a network, and there was even a theatre shut down ostensibly for failure to pay taxes which was rumored to have been the main conduit to the IRA on the West Coast.
Tim Flynn (Josh Clark) is the local IRA commander in Philadelphia who coordinates the activities and supervises the rank and file of Irish immigrants in what is more or less an American auxiliary to the Republican army still fighting the British occupation.
It was a time when the old wounds were not allowed to heal.
It is the announcement that the eldest of the Keating children, John (Andrew Connolly) is coming to America that throws the family into turmoil.
For the oldest son, who is now a general in the British army, had served with the hated Black and Tans, and he will find no welcome from either his father or his eldest sister.
Thus does playwright John Fazakerley set the stage with conflicts stemming from those two steadfast sources of family and politics.
Fazakerley boasts of a long history as actor and writer in film and theatre, whose grandfather, according to the program notes, was an “unrepentant Irish Republican.”
Director Wilson Milam is no stranger to the subject matter either, having directed Martin McDonagh’s blood drenched The Lieutenant of Inishmore for the Broadway and London productions and for the staging at the Mark Taper in L.A.
The cast offers up excellent performances overall, especially in Connolly as the family’s black sheep, Clark as the local IRA chief, and Tate as the unforgiving father. And 12-year-old Jonah Beres does himself proud in the role of Johnny Keating, Janice and Frank’s young son.
However where the production falters, is in the play itself.
Both the story and its presentation suffer from a lack of revelations that either surprise or shock, a charge that could in no way be leveled at The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
Fazakerley’s writing is craftsman-like and manages to touch all the dramatic bases, yet in rounding the diamond his pace is sure and steady rather than striking.
The play suffers from a lack of unpredictability, and feels interminably old fashion. Some productions can surmount these weaknesses in the material that they stage. This, I fear, is just not one of those productions.
Other than the disclosure of an affair between two characters there are no real revelations in the play, and even the affair in question doesn’t involve any of the pivotal characters, nor does it have any impact on the main dramatic thrust.
Nothing new is discovered by the characters on stage nor revealed to the audience in the theatre.
The play is stuffed with occurrences boasting of high drama; a kidnapping, double dealing, a rescue, a betrayal, a murder, none of which happens on stage.
Oh discussed they are, and discussions can be quite heated, interesting even, but seldom are they dramatic.
Corktown ’57 is hardly a work to be dismissed out of hand, but both Fazakerley and Milam have approached the material far too leisurely, so it moves like a family outing down a Maine country road.
Both director and playwright have apparently forgotten that outing down country roads in Ireland during the “Troubles” more often than not ended badly.
Just ask Michael Collins.
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Corktown ’57 Runs
Sat, Mar 28 – Sun, May 03
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sunday at 2pm
$25 Fridays and Sundays
Running time: 120 minutes.
There will be an intermission.
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Ample Street Parking