Family dynamics and political ire mix it up in “Corktown ‘57” at the Odyssey Theatre. Playwright John Fazakerley’s account of a volatile clan in Philadelphia’s Irish quarter owes more than a little to Eugene O’Neill and Sean O’Casey, but it has plenty of emotional and ideological fodder of its own.
It transpires in 1957, set entirely in the grocery store basement (well realized by designer Joel Daavid) of Frank Keating, whose matriculation after emigrating hasn’t been necessarily easy. His business is shaky and his home may be demolished, and those aren't the only reasons for the tension between Frank (John Ruby) and wife Janice (Natalie Britton), tension that son Johnny (Jonah Beres) tries not to notice.
Nobody can ignore the revolutionary sympathies of sister Kaitlin (Rebecca Tilney), who funnels money to the Irish Republican Army via bake sales. Marie (Belen Greene), his other sister, is more circumspect, considering that Ciaran (Kevin P. Kearns), her husband, has a history with Kaitlin, who in turn has an implied past with Tim Flynn (Josh Clark).
And then, there’s Mike (Nick Tate), Frank’s father, whose liver cancer diagnosis has moved him into his youngest son’s home. There's also the conflict that arises with the return of Frank's older brother John Keating (Andrew Connolly), who remained overseas when the Keatings left years before.
Mike, an IRA loyalist to his sodden core, has never forgiven John for joining the royal paramilitary Black and Tans, infamous for slaughtering freedom fighters.
There’s a lot going on here, too much at times, with more subplots and social commentary than there is space to recount. That it doesn’t implode is because of Fazakerley’s self-evident talent for invective and idiom, and director Wilson Milam’s strong staging. The designs are resourceful, including Leigh Allen’s invaluable lighting, and the cast is entirely impressive, particularly Connolly’s calmly unrepentant prodigal, Tate’s explosive patriarch and Tilney’s incisive rebel.
“Corktown ‘57” isn’t perfected yet. Several plot threads should be revised or excised, and Frank’s role as protagonist is inconclusive in the big picture. Still, it’s never boring. It's character-driven and original, a promising new addition to the Irish drama canon.
“Corktown ‘57,” Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 3. $25-$30. (323) 960-5770 or www.plays411.com/corktown. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.