LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Juno And The Paycock by Sean O'Casey
By Elyse Sommer
The above quoted interchange between battling Boyles (J. Smith- Cameron's Juno and O'Reilly's "Captain" Jack) typifies the family tensions, exacerbated by life in Civil War ravaged Dublin. Their lives take a sunnier turn with the news that the work allergic Jack has inherited a tidy sum from a distant cousin. No credit cards to max out in 1922, but using the news about the inheritance as credit, it doesn't take long for the shabby tenement to take on a more lived-in look with new furniture and dishes. (Bravo to James Noone for a set that visually captures the Boyle's shift from dingy to bright and hopeful to total despair).
Charlie Bentham (James Russell), the young English solicitor who brings this welcome news also turns out to be the sort of "gentleman caller" Tennessee Williams's Amanda Wingfield hopes will marry her problem daughter. Not that Juno Boyle's daughter Mary (Mary Mallen) is physically or mentally challenged. She's an attractive young woman who already has a devoted boy friend (David O'Hare's Jerry Devine) and enough spunk to have joined the strikers against the exploitative factory bosses. But Mary's romance with Bentham is as much a pipe dream as the inheritance. Her mother's brief taste of hope and a less dour life is merely a pause before she must once more be the family's rock. What's more, though it seems as if things couldn't get any worse for the family's own Civil War casualty, the physically and mentally damaged son Johnny (Ed Malone)— they do.
So there you have O'Casey's dramatic premise: Using a familial lens through which to view the larger story of never ending political unrest. The chaos or "chassis" that Jack Boyle complains about to the very end of the play ("I'm telling you,Joxer. . .th' whole world's in a terrible state o'chassis!") has all too many more recent counterparts in other countries and families.
O'Casey way with underscoring this dark familial and, by extension, political story with typical Irish humor takes up much of the first act through the interaction between Jack and his layabout drinking buddy Joxer (John Keating). Some of this comic business turns farcical, as when Jack and Joxer eat the breakfast he pretended not to want when offered by Juno and scramble to hide the evidence when Juno returns unexpectedly which has Joxer literally jumping out the window.
For anyone not gung-ho about all things typically Irish, this very broad and very Irish style of humor can be a bit wearying. And the very authentic but heavily accented dialogue tends at times to be be frustratingly hard to fully comprehend. But that said, Charlotte Moore has struck a fine balance between the comical and the tragic.
As for the performances, the gratifyingly large cast is so attuned to the demands of their roles that I hesitate to single out just one or two at the risk of slighting all the excellent others — many Irish Rep veterans like John Keating, Terry Donnelly and, of course, company founder O"Reilly. But I can't help a giving a special hurrah to J. Smith- Cameron, a seasoned performer who's making her Irish Rep debut. She brings the full force of her acting experience to the difficult role of the woman who must provide strength and faith beyond what's ordinarily called for.
Ms. Smith-Cameron gave up the opportunity to reprise her part in Richard Nelson's Apple family plays. That series was a huge hit and promises to be very popular again with the premiere of a new and final edition as well as an in-repertory rerun of the three previously done plays. No doubt it wasn't easy to leave the more upscale and sober Apples of Rhinebeck for the impoverished and dysfunctional Boyles of Ireland circa 1922. Yet taking on the role of Juno Boyle is also a chance for Ms. Smith-Cameron to stretch and strengthen her acting muscles. And so, the Public Theater's loss is very much the Irish Rep's gain.
While the musical adaptation of this play was a flop, it received a lovely production by the Encores! Concert series five years ago. To read my review go here