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Paulanne Simmons

“Juno and the Paycock” Spreads its Wings and Soars

JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK -- Mary Mallen, James Russell, J. Smith-Cameron, Ciarán O’Reilly, Terry Donnelly, and John Keating. Photo by James Higgins

Juno and the Paycock
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd St.
Opened Oct. 20, 2013
Friday at 8pm, Saturday at pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm, Tuesday at 7pm
Tickets: $55-$65, 212-727-2737 or www.irishrep.org
Closing Jan. 26, 2014
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 21, 2013

When we think of the misfortunes that have befallen Ireland, what first comes to mind is the centuries-long conflict with Great Britain. But in Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock,” the playwright is more concerned with how the irish, like everyone else, undermine each other.

The play, written in 1924, is set during the Irish Civil war of 1922, a guerrilla style conflict in which Irish nationalists who supported the newly formed Free State battled the Republican opposition, or Diehards, who believed the treaty with the English did not fulfill their goals. But the play is about much more than politics. It’s about people suffering, and searching to escape reality, in fantasy, in alcohol, in religion, in love. And no one tells this story better than the Irish.

Juno and the Peacock is directed with great sensitivity by Irish Rep Artistic Director Charlotte Moore, who, with the help of set designer James Moore, gives us a perfectly accurate and painful idea of what life in a Dublin tenement must have been like.

The show features Irish Rep’s producing director, Ciaran O’Reilly as the drunken “Captain” Jack Boyle and J. Smith-Cameron as his long-suffering and stalwart wife, Juno. Their physically and mentally wounded son, Johnny, is played by Ed Malone, and their vulnerable, if not exactly innocent daughter, Mary, is played by Mary Mallen. Together, these four actors, weave the web of complicated relations born of love, fear, hope and regret.

John Keating is wonderfully conniving and craven as Jack’s drinking buddy, Joxer Daly. Ciaran and Keating are often quite funny, if you forget how destructive their behavior really is. The supporting cast of friends and neighbors completes the picture of a neighborhood struggling to survive.

If Juno and the Peacock has its amusing moments, it is ultimately a tragedy. From the moment Charlie Bentham (James Russell) informs the family they are about to inherit a huge sum of money, we know this is not going to pan out. It’s only a question of how deeply the Boyles will get into debt and how much trouble they will get themselves into before their expectations are destroyed. Even during their happiest moment, telling stories, singing and teasing each other, we know that doom is waiting round the corner, especially for Johnny, the terrified former Diehard.

Juno and the Paycock demands a lot from actors. Jack, the paycock, must be likable even at his most vile moments. Juno has to be strong but never slip into the role of nagging wife. Mary, who unwisely succumbs to Bentham’s charms rather than the more practical virtues of her former suitor, Jerry Devine (David O’Hara), must be dignified in her downfall. And we must see something of the former idealist in the wreck of a man Johnny has become.

Fortunately, Moore and her cast understand O’Casey as well as O’Casey understood the Irish and the irish understand the world.


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