Plunkett and Ciaran O’Reilly Photo: Carol Rosegg
and the Paycock
By Fern Siegel
is a hot topic this season — on and off-Broadway.
— political and familial — is the subject of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the
Paycock, the second play in his Dublin trilogy, now at the Irish Rep. (Shadow
of a Gunman and The Plough and the Stars are the others.)
revived by the company in 2014, Juno features many of those same cast
members — and all deliver moving performances.
during the 1922 Irish Civil War, the Boyle family battles economic and social
unrest. “The whole world’s in a terrible state of chassis!” shouts Jack Boyle
(Ciaran O’Reilly), the flawed patriarch of a beleaguered family.
the peacock of the title — a man who would rather drink with his sneaky friend
Joxer (John Keating) than actually work, despite the hardships his family
endures. Son Jonny (Ed Malone) has been maimed in a shooting and fearful of his
IRA comrades. His daughter Mary (Sarah Street) is enamored of Ibsen and her
refined beau Charles (James Russell).
mother/wife Juno (Maryann Plunkett), the focal character, is the heart and sole
of this troubled household. Be it war, endless disappointment and/or the limits
of prayer — “What can God do against the stupidity of man?” — she soldiers on. Her patience and
fortitude are pushed to the limit as she struggles valiantly to hold her family
wayward husband is useless, daughter Mary is on strike — “It doesn’t matter
what you say, ma - a principle’s a principle,” while Johnny (Ed Malone),
crippled by a bombing and despair, lives in bitterness. Little wonder
unexpected news uplifts the stricken clan.
it brings with it temptation — and gossamer dreams.
Donnelly, Ed Malone, John Keating, Ciarán O'Reilly, Maryann Plunkett, James
Russell, and Sarah Street. Photo: Carol Rosegg
a master of tragicomedy, also documents the price of desperation. Mary’s posh
suitor, much like Jack’s lazy friend Joxer, employs a seemingly friendly air to
obscure their baser impulses.
the other women in the tenement, Juno is battered by outside forces. All exist
in a world where alcohol, shame and men limit their freedom. Betrayal and
violence pollute the air. Whatever the political outcome, religion, class and
gender may remain impediments to individual salvation.
Juno is a lesson in true grit, while Street’s Mary is a quiet portrait of
dignity in difficult circumstances. Both are saddled with Jack’s false bravado;
he plagues his female relations with boozy banter and empty threats. O’Casey is
ever sensitive to the ironies and hypocrisies of rebellion. Those who demand
their rights are often reluctant to assign the same rights to others, notably
the stark realism, O’Casey injects occasional humor and even a dollop of hope.
This is a bleak world, bound by insularity and fear. Yet, the indomitable Juno
demonstrates a fierce will to survive, whatever the odds.
Corcoran’s set neatly illustrates the Boyles’ world, with the always-present
laundry hanging just outside the window, a carryover from Gunman. Neil
Pepe tightly directs a tailor-made cast. Street and Plunkett strike real
warmth, while O’Reilly and Keating make a perfect pair of malcontents. Malone
is a cauldron of heartbreak.
strong ensemble fuels a compelling story. It takes a bit of time for the pacing
to hit its stride — and then it takes off. Long considered one of
O’Casey’s best works, the Irish Rep delivers a tense, masterful production
that captures the pathos of those caught by forces beyond their control.
Repertory Theater, 132 W. 22 St. Through June 22
https://irishrep.org/, select dates