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Paulanne Simmons

Good vs. Evil in Shaughraun

“The Shaughraun”
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through June 12, 2011
Tickets: $55-$65(212) 727-2737 or irishrep.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons April 30, 2011

In these days of cynicism and sophistication it’s sometimes hard to realize that during the second half of the 19th century the most popular form of theatrical entertainment was the melodrama. Irish playwright Dion Boucicault was one of the most successful creators of melodramas. He was renowned on both sides of the atlantic for his numerous works, including “The Shaughraun,” now onstage at the Irish Repertory Theatre

The show is directed by Charlotte Moore and features Patrick Fitzgerald as the titular shaughraun, or wanderer, a fiddlin’, preachin’ vagabond named Conn. Terry Donnelly is his long-suffering mother, Mrs. O’Kelly. And Kevin O’Donnell is his friend, Robert Ffolliott, a young Irish gentleman under sentence as a Fenian.

True to its genre, The Shaughraun has a plot that takes more than a few sentences to convey. In brief, in turns out that Ffolliott, who has just escaped from prison, is actually innocent. He was framed by a country squire named Corry Kinchela (Sean Gormley).

Kincehla is now trying to force Ffolliott’s fiance, Arte O’Neal (Katie Fabel) into marriage, and and tries to get Ffolliot out of the way by tricking him into making an escape after he has been captured.The irony is that the crown has recently pardoned the Fenians, and Ffolliott would have soon been freed if he had only stayed in jail.

To complicate matter, Ffolliott’s sister, Claire (Allison Jean White) has fallen in love with a British soldier, Captain Harry Molineaux (Mark Shanahan), who has been sent to round up the Fenians. She is very charmingly caught between fraternal love for her brother and passionate love for the captain.

For all those familiar with melodrama, it should be unnecessary to say that the good are rewarded, the evil punished and love allowed to blossom by the end of the play. There’s also a good deal of humor, mostly thanks to O’Donnell’s antics and the unlikely burgeoning love between the excellent Shanahan and the coquettish White. But most of all, there’s mustache-curling villainy, brave damsels and swashbuckling heroes.

Set designer Klara Zieglerova has made the most of Irish Rep’s difficult stage, creating just a hint of the countryside and using an intrusive pole as a lookout point.

“The Shaughraun” inhabits a territory somewhere between traditionally biting Irish comedy and depressing, if insightful Irish drama. It’s light, breezy, action-packed and silly. And in the hands of Irish Rep it’s done so well others might turn green with envy.

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