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Juno and the Paycock

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Maryann Plunkett and Ciaran O’Reilly Photo: Carol Rosegg


Juno and the Paycock


                   By Fern Siegel


Politics is a hot topic this season — on and off-Broadway.


Revolution — 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.)


Last revived by the company in 2014, Juno features many of those same cast members — and all deliver moving performances.


Set 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.


He’s 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).


Yet 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 together.

Her 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. 

But it brings with it temptation — and gossamer dreams.

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Terry Donnelly, Ed Malone, John Keating, Ciarán O'Reilly, Maryann Plunkett, James Russell, and Sarah Street.   Photo: Carol Rosegg

O’Casey, 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.

Like 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.

Plunkett’s 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 women.

Against 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.

Charlie 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.

Pepe’s 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.


Irish Repertory Theater, 132 W. 22 St. Through June 22

Tickets:, select dates