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Curse of the Starving Class - A Disturbing slice of domestic life

It says a lot about the destructive nature of a play when you're too busy watching a young girl having a hissy fit to notice that her older brother has just unzipped his jeans and begun relieving himself on the kitchen floor.

But then, Sam Shepard's curious tale of a dysfunctional clan, dangling between the gutter and their termite-infested farmhouse, is anything but conventional. There's a comical edge (with naked men and live animals), but make no mistake about it, Curse of the Starving Class is a deeply disturbing piece of work; a lengthy, yet fascinating, portrayal of domestic chaos.

Most of the Tate family wish for a better life than the one that they've been 'cursed' with. For mother Ella (a simmering Andrea Irvine), years of playing the hapless wife and mother have taken their toll and she wants to sell the house, get out of America, and move to Europe -- that'll fix things.

Daughter Emma (Rose O'Loughlin) is just as ambitious -- her teenage drive willing her to believe that she is ready for the big, bad world. Only, her mother reckons it'll swallow her up.


On the other hand, elder sibling -- and serial flasher -- Wesley (Ciaran O'Brien) is more than content with their home. So what if poor dad (literally) crashes through the front door at night, too drunk to do anything but scare his entire family?

Things take an interesting turn, however, when Weston (the drunken father, played by Joe Hanley) sobers up, Emma cracks, Ella loses her mind, and Wesley dons his father's jacket. Oh, and there's a lamb in there, too.

True, it's all just a little too weird at times, and, unfortunately, a tad unfocused and drawn out.

To play a Tate seems to require a great deal of over-acting, and for the most part, that's okay. But there are moments when things get a little out of hand. Yet, the dynamic between this most captivating of fictional families -- not to mention the wonderful cast -- always pulls you back in.

It takes a while to get there, but Curse ... features a suitably powerful finale. And it's quite an unsettling one, too. HHHII