The Reluctant Ornithologist
Irish folk singer, Román O’Talún, finally has a story to tell and a gig to play. Except it’s not a particularly interesting story, and it’s not particularly well told. Also, most of his songs aren’t all that memorable, even if he has written one of the best drinking songs in decades. In Kevin C. Olohan’s brave and ambitions “Cassowary,” one man’s quest to overcome his fear of birds serves as a weak metaphor in an even weaker narrative. One padded out with a plethora of live songs and a density of descriptive details that bury a really clever idea trying to get out. An idea often glimpsed, but ultimately proving as elusive as the much sought after Cassowary.
An intriguing premise that reads better than it plays, “Cassowary’s” small tale follows a lean through line. One in which Wicklow lad, Román, experiences panic attacks whenever he's around birds following a harrowing experience with a heron as a child. Dressed like the lovechild of Bob Dylan and Liam Clancy, his two folk heroes, and armed only with his sawn off electric guitar called Pascal, Román sets out into the Australian wilds seeking the elusive Cassowary, the worlds most dangerous bird, in an effort to overcome his crippling ornithophobia. In between there’s lots of gaps, some incredibly long gaps, in which Román regales with descriptive ornithology lessons, geography lessons, folk tales, folks songs, and some personal anecdotes of his experiences with, you guessed it, birds.
Sitting uneasily between a gig and a performance, “Cassowary” shows a lot of heart. Yet it often feels like an episode of The Blue Planet narrated by Joseph Campbell, with a second rate soundtrack composed by an all styles cover’s band. Its songs, like its jokes and central story, are often quirky rather than funny, especially when contrasted to similar musical offerings from the likes of Axis of Awesome, Weird Al Yankovic, or Tim Hawkins. Olohan’s singing seanachaí might playfully aspire to being a ‘no fear, no envy, no meanness’ folk hero, but too often he resembles that annoying friend who’s been somewhere exotic and insists on name dropping in the local lingo just to show off how much he’s done and seen. Even recognising “Cassowary" as story telling theatre, it's theatricality leaves something to be desired. The set might cleverly resemble a music venue, but Aindrias de Staic’s disappointing direction often fails to address the simplest issues. Including managing a performer moving about in a tight space with loose objects and cables, which often puts Olohan out on a limb.
Like wading through a dense Australian rainforest, “Cassowary” has too much undergrowth and not enough real scenery. Yet if it’s not up there with the Conference of the Birds, it isn’t exactly a conference for the birds either. Indeed, those who enjoy mythology, ornithology, folk tales and folk singers will find some nice moments here, even if they’re poorly strung together, and a chance to see a serious, up and coming new talent finding his feet. For if Román O’Talún won’t cause Bob Dylan too many sleepless nights, you haven’t heard the last of Kevin C. Olohan.
“Cassowary” by Kevin C. Olohan, runs at Theatre Upstairs until November 24.
For more information, visit Theatre Upstairs.