In 'The Irish Curse,' now playing at the Odyssey Theatre, men agonize over their small members. (photo by Ron Sossi)

There’s no way to put this delicately: “The Irish Curse” by Martin Casella, at West L.A.’s venerated Odyssey Theatre, is about grief over the size of a particular part of the male anatomy and its effect on men’s lives. It’s not typically the kind of thing that men talk about — their feelings, that is.

Dubbed the “wee willie play,” this rambunctious, revealing and rather touching (don’t take that the wrong way) play is extremely well acted by its highly spirited cast and has been a hit everywhere in the world that it’s been produced since its premiere at the 2005 New York Fringe Festival.

A self-help group of Irish Catholic Americans meets in the basement of their priest/group-leader’s church. They all suffer from the same condition, “the Irish curse,” but each has processed the lack of private part size in a different way.

Four men share their feelings about intimacy, shame, humiliation, self-esteem, love and relationships in hilarious and poignantly moving ways. The regulars are Steven the gay cop, Joseph the stifled married lawyer, Ricky the playboy with a perfect girlfriend and Father Joe, whose humiliation led him to the priesthood.

Into their group comes Kieran, an actual Irishman, with a pending problem that he desperately needs advice about — he’s a virgin about to be married and hasn’t told his fiancé about his situation.

It’s an outstanding production and runs through Aug. 26.

The Odyssey Theatre is located one block north of Olympic Boulevard at 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd.

Odyssey of grief, laughter

Grief plays two very different roles at the Odyssey Theatre.

“Grace Notes and Anvils,” a staged reading with plenty of dramatic moments, takes on a topic Americans avoid. Grief — mourning the loss of a loved one, the date that demarcates your life — and the awkwardness others feel in the presence of the bereaved are the intertwined subjects of this meditation.

Performed by writer/director Ron Marasco and a changing pair of actors, the reading is based on Marasco’s book, co-authored with Brian Shuff, “About Grief: Insights, Setbacks, Grace Notes, Taboos.”

A compilation of poetry, prose and privately remembered moments, including the audience calling out dates marking their dividing line between “before” and “after,” there are surprisingly many laughs and irreverent moments.

The staging is simple: three people sit at a table with three-ring binders before them; the table itself is a metaphor, “the weight of grief” we carry around with us when a loved one dies.

We hear about the annoyances of being spoken to in “pamphlet language” and clichés like “your mom is in a better place;” the “grace notes,” such as the women of Lockerbie, Scotland who gathered all the belongings they could find from the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, laundering and packaging each of the items to return to the families of the victims; and the “consolations,” such as the return of hunger and finding release in sports.

The evening I attended I saw Deidre Hall (“Days of Our Lives,” one of my favorite soap opera stars), actor Karl Glusman and Marasco, who has the advantage of having written the script, thus reading less and performing more genuinely than the actors have the chance to, relying as they must on the printed page.

But there are moments in which each actor shares a personal story of their own grief. Following the performance, which is cathartic enough, there is a Q&A session with the artists that, although they disdain the phrase in “Grace Notes and Anvils,” allows the audience something like “closure.”

“Grace Notes and Anvils” has been extended through July 29 with the following actors joining Ron Marasco onstage: July 11-July 15, Jonelle Allen and Brandon Barash; July 19-July 22, Mariette Hartley and Karl Glusman; July 26–July 29, Brenda Strong and Brandon Barash.

Call (310) 477-2055 or visit www.odysseytheatre.com/gracenotes.

Shakespeare under the stars

Veterans at the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center are onstage, backstage and at the front of the house following a 20-year hiatus by The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, which is currently presenting Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at the VA’s Japanese Garden.

Royal Shakespeare Co. veteran Kenn Sabberton directs one of the Bard’s most beloved comedies of errors and mistaken identities, setting it in modern day L.A.

Standing in for the Forest of Arden, where most of the action takes place, are orange groves, farmland and the Angeles Crest Forest campgrounds; the story of family strife revolves around the corridors of government and corporate power, with characters ultimately resolving their issues through singing, dancing and falling in love.

Ben Donenberg, artistic director of The Shakespeare Center, expresses delight at the return to the VA grounds, “this time at the Japanese Gardens, one of the loveliest outdoor venues on the Westside, complete with live music and a cast of L.A. Shakespearean actors headed by a Royal Shakespeare Co. veteran.”

Veterans and active military personnel receive complimentary tickets. The Japanese Garden is on the grounds of the West Los Angeles VA at 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 90073 (adjacent to the Brentwood Theatre). Tickets for “As You Like It” are available online at shakespearecenter.org. For information about the ticket program for active military and veterans, call (213) 481-2273.

iPhoneography Festival

If you’re an iPhone photographer with an artistic bent, heads up! Deadline to submit a proposal to include your work in The L.A. Mobile Arts Festival 2012 is this Sunday, July 15.

iPhoneArt.com and Santa Monica Art Studios (SMAS) co-host this festival Aug. 18-26 at SMAS to celebrate “the pioneers of iPhoneography and the underground mobile arts movement” with nine days of interactive digital art-iPhone imagery, sound- and video-based works, sculptural and performance art installations at the historic Santa Monica airplane hangar turned cutting-edge arts community. http://la-maf.com/

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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