Cu Chulainn, much like Hercules or Superman, is a hero of seemingly limitless strength and ability. He’s able to decapitate scores of men with a single swing of his sword and lift up entire rivers in order to divert their course. Although he is a kind of wild monster in battle, Cu Chulainn’s appearance is of a young beardless lad. He looks so young that some of the men in Medb’s host refuse to fight him at first because it would make them look weak to fight a child. The Tain goes into incredible detail describing each and every warrior who either volunteer or are coerced to fight Cu Chulainn, from each of their long, proud family histories, to the color of their amor, to the specific shape of their shields. These unique characters are introduced with pomp and applaud by the important members of Medb’s camp, and then sent off to face Cu Chulainn, where he kills them in single combat almost instantly. Each new champion comes before him with their own unique fighting style or tactic or special weapon, yet each of them die immediately, most often in gruesome ways. The ease with which Cu Chulainn seems to have bringing down each man after all the detailed exposition about them makes me chuckle. There is a morbid humor of Medb sending man after man to their ultimate demise while promising the same wonderful gifts if they should win. In fact there is a lot of humor to be found in the Tain. From the weird, sexy pillow talk between Ailill and Medb, to the old grandfather warrior who’s testicles hang below his shield, there’s moments of both silliness with the macabre humor. The Tain also reflects on the toll that this consistant fighting can have on someone, even on a hero. Cu Chulainn is never always pleased with who he must face every morning at the ford, and when friends from his childhood are talked into challenging him, he shows remorse before ultimately having to killing them too. We see him beaten and tired and wounded and bloody from single handedly fighting off an army, which is perhaps the best known motif surrounding Cu Chulainn. That of the hero battered, broken, bloodied, but still fighting on against the odds. For even though he’s god the strength of a god, I still love to see the hound of Cullen as the underdog. And that’s what I think ultimately draws people into the stories of Cu Chulainn, because everyone loves an underdog.
CU CHULAINN by Kyle McReddie
Directed by Liz Baker
Staged Reading on November 14, 2019 at The EXIT Theatre
Kyle McReddie is an actor, fight choreographer, and writer native to the Bay Area. He can be seen here at the EXIT as a house manager and performing in local productions such as The Congresswomen and Paradise Street (EXIT Theatre), Twins (Pianofight), and Six Degrees of Separation (Custom Made). He is also earning his teaching certificate in stage combat through Dueling Arts International, with whom has trained in fighting for the stage for the last nine years. Kyle has choreographed fights for theatres across the bay including Shakespeare in Love (Palo Alto Players) and Vampire Christmas (EXIT Theatre). He also teaches stage combat at high schools in San Francisco including Lick-Wilmerding and Drew School. Kyle has also performed three times before for the Olympians, so he is no stranger to the Festival, and is very excited to be writing his own piece this time around.