The Irish Repertory Theatre is mounting all three of Sean O’Casey’s Dublin plays, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924), and The Plough and the Stars (1926), throughout the spring, and, once all are opened, will run them in rep through May 25. Besides these main stage shows, there will be readings of all of his plays (free admission), symposiums, lectures, screenings and other events highlighting and focusing on his body of work.
Historically, Juno was the first play that the Abbey Theatre in Dublin ever extended as the demand to see the production was overwhelming and its run kept the theatre from an eminent failure. It was produced at a time when Ireland was divided and the civil war had wreaked havoc on the working class population, restricting their opportunities from little to less. Juno is about the degrading of the family due to the ravages of war, both physical and emotional, and the overwhelming hopelessness against forces greater than the individual. There is a glossary in the program to help with all the political players mentioned in the play if you’re not sure.
Juno and the Paycock, opening at Irish Rep in New York in the footsteps of The Shadow of a Gunman, highlights an even stronger O'Casey, a writer ever more sure of his footing and able to align comedy and tragedy, having them walk hand-in-hand next to each other guiding us down a bumpy and un-marked road.
Maryann Plunkett, who plays Juno, not only holds the play together as the character, but as an actress she creates a foundation and a present strength that anchors the production and is a lifeline for the audience through all the tumult. See the production just for her acting if nothing else.
There are three story threads woven into the tapestry of this play: Juno Boyle (Maryann Plunkett) is the only breadwinner of the family as well as keeping them all alive emotionally as their lives go from bad to worse. Her loafer husband, “Captain” Jack Boyle (Ciaran O’Reilly) plays cards, spends what little money they have at the pub and boisterously talks of great things bolstered by his crony Joxer Daly (the always funny John Keating).
Mary Boyle (Sarah Street), her daughter, has discarded one suitor in favor of a more distinguished and upwardly mobile one, who ends up taking advantage of the situation, leaving her and the family in the lurch.
Johnny Boyle (Ed Malone), her son, shot in the hip during the Easter Week Rebellion and lost his arm in an explosion in the Civil War is paranoid to the point of hysteria as he is rightfully afraid he is being targeted for giving information to the authorities that lead to the death of one of his comrades.
The play also highlights and champions the emotional strength of women and the doddering foolishness of the men around them. Just before they are to leave their home for good, Mary fearfully and tearfully says that her baby will not have a father. Juno replies with conviction, "It'll have what's far better- it'll have two mothers."
I’m looking forward to The Plough's opening. This focus on O'Casey's body of work is a true gift the Irish Rep is giving us all, as his plays are not done that often in the States. As a theatre lover, I urge you to partake of Irish Reps excellent work and offerings.
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)