‘A Slight Ache’ is at the Odyssey and the Possum is Gleefully Under the Serving Cart[1]

By Ernest Kearney — “When a splinter is intolerable crucifixion is endurable.” The joy of Harold Pinter’s plays is in the unraveling of them. Like a biblical parable, a Zen Kona, or a Mensa one-liner[2], Pinter’s plays are rich ground for puzzle solvers, the intellectually inclined, and pretentious theatre critics.

Like the best of his works in A Slight Ache, Pinter keeps the game board sparse of pieces; there’s Flora (Susan Priver) and Edward (Henry Olek) a stately, upper-class couple so British that they sweat crumpets; and there’s the Match Seller (Shelly Kurtz) or is there….?

A relationship disintegrating is a straightforward enough dramatic story, but the pathway Pinter provides his audience is delightfully Byzantine. Allusions to biblical gardens and motes abound, there’s a splattering of insinuations to Shakespearean storms, and enough self-referencing text-linking to keep James Joyce busy for at least…well, five or ten minutes.

With some Pinter plays, the greatest danger is that they’re more fun to discuss afterward than actually sit through and that’s why Pinter ranks right up there with Strindberg, Shakespeare, Wilde, Weiss, and a few others as a great playwright with tough shows to stage.

With Pinter, the director and cast must be blessed with that happy combination of talent and smarts. Fortunately, that seems to be the case with the production of A Slight Ache just opening at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.

Priver as Flora is near perfect as the prim, pristine very proper wife who longs for a rough roll in the mud, and as her insufferable dominating husband, Olek [3], could not be more satisfyingly annoying.

The problem with this production is the character of the enigmatic foreboding Match Seller who makes his way from outside their garden gate into Flora and Henry’s lives, fears, and desires, with the same sinister-sprung momentum as a ghostly doppelganger from some J-horror classic.

The fault here is not with Kurtz who is a peerless actor; as anyone who saw him in the 24th Street Theater production of Walking the Tightrope knows. No, the fault must fall on the playwright who originally wrote this work as a radio play.

In that medium, the silence of the Match Seller imposes on one an entirely different plane of interpretation to the piece.

From Strindberg’s The Stronger to Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot, mute characters on stage pose a major problem in that director and actor must fill their silence with an inner monologue/back-story/rage whatever grips, entices, or lures an audience. For me, that was accomplished to glass-half-full, but for my lovely wife Marlene, it overflowed the brim.

Be that as it may, Jack Heller has staged a splendorous and entertaining staging of this classic play that demonstrates why it warrants being called a classic.

Priver, Olek , and Kurtz are at the top of their game, and watching them is intoxicating for any lover of the thespian arts. Jeff G. Rack’s set and Michael Mullen’s costuming provide the icing to this very tasty cake, and everyone should get themselves a slice.

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[1] Pinter was once asked what a play of his was about, he replied, “The possum is under the serving cart.” And walked away.  Works for me.

[2] Julius Caesar walks into a bar holds up two fingers and says, “Barkeep, five beers.”

[3] I really should read the programs to the shows I review, then I could have expressed my admiration to Olek for his script of the 1978 film A Different Story.


DATES: Thursday, August 31, 2023 – Sunday, October 1, 2023


Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Theatre #2
2055 South Sepulveda Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025


For Additional Information Click HERE.

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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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