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A CurtainUp Review
Juno and the Paycock
By Elyse Sommer
Given the trend to streamline plays to be performed with more economical casting, just seeing all of O'Casey's colorful characters allowed to come alive on stage is something of a novelty. When the actors enlisted to portray them do so with authenticity and depth, the play, even when seen before, has a way of feeling like the best ever— which I can attest to now that I've seen and enjoyed the play three times, starting with a production almost twenty years ago by the by Roundabout Company.
While the major moments of the Irish Revolutionary Period covered in each play of the trilogy take us back almost a century Juno and the Paycock is especially relevant. In fact, the repeated pronouncement by Jack boyle, the titular Paycock, about the world being in a terrible state of "chassis" is depressingly timely nowadays. Boyle may be poor and powerless, but his bluster, braggadocio, and tolerance of unsavory company is echoed by similar behavior of the man now in the White House.
I didn't see the Irish Rep's 1995 Juno and the Paycock, but very much liked the 2014 one (my review). It marked the Irish Rep debut of J. Smith- Cameron in the difficult role of Juno, the Boyle family's bulwark of seemingly indestructible strength and faith.
Smith-Cameron gave up a chance to reprise her role in the ongoing productions of Richard Nelson's hit trilogies about the Apple and Gabriel families to play Juno. Now that the Irish Rep has opted to feature the whole Dublin trilogy as the centerpiece of its O'Casey season, they've brought aboard Maryann Plunkett, another favorite from the Nelson plays. And Plunkett is magnificent.
Since the play is back as part of the Irish Rep's O'Casey tribute, it's being presented within that context. World events since 2014 have increased its enduring relevancy and strongly support its indeed being the best ever. Add to this that the Atlantic Theater's excellent Neil Pepe has staged it to reflect its being part of this season long mission. Thus his cast includes actors from both the previous Juno and the Paycock and the triptych's first play, Shadow of a Gunman.
Thus Plunkett Juno, like Smith-Cameron, is paired with Cierán O'Reilly as the blustery Paycock of the title. O'Reilly, who directed Shadow of a Gunman is a superb actor as well as the Irish Rep's co-funder. His 'Captain' Jack has the always ilarious John Keating to again play his drinking buddy Jaxter Daly.
Besides several other actors to reprise their 2014 roles, Pepe has also brought Shadow of a Gunman's designer Charlie Corcoran, on board to recreate that play's tenement home for the Boyles' story. The rest of the crafts team further contributes to the visual and aural connection.
To borrow a bit from my previous review for a recap of O'Casey's dramatic premise: The chaos or "chassis" that Jack Boyle complains about to his pal Joxer to the very end of the play imbues the darker political and family story with its very typical broad Irish humor that takes up much of the first act. Some of this comic business turns farcical when Jack and Joxer eat the breakfast he pretended not to want when offered by Juno and they scramble to hide the evidence when Juno returns unexpectedly, which has Joxer literally jumping out the window. But the farcical humor is never allowed to overshadow the darker aspects of these Dubliners' lives.
The family tensions, exacerbated by life in Civil War ravaged Dublin, are considerably eased with the news that the work allergic Jack has inherited a tidy sum from a distant cousin. Using that news about the inheritance as credit, it doesn't take long for the shabby Boyle home to take on a more lived-in look. New furniture and dishes and a gramophone shift the scene from dingy to bright and hopeful —and, inevitably, to total despair due to Jack Boyle's hasty over-spending and the political conflict raging outside their door.
Charlie Bentham (James Russell, another actor reprising his 2014 role), a 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 Mary Boyle (Sarah Street) is physically or mentally challenged. She's an attractive young woman who already has a devoted boy friend (Harry Smith's Jerry Devine) and enough spunk to have joined the strikers against the exploitative factory bosses.
Not too surprisingly, 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. When Mary despairs at the prospect of raising a baby without a father, Juno gathers the courage to finally leave her self-serving husband and support her daughter in something of an early MeToo moment.
A tea party scene during the sunny period when the Boyles' are living it up in espectation of the inherited money and the Mary /Bentham relationship is in full bloom goes a little too overboard on the Irishness by having everyone sing. Yet, that's a minor quibble since the arrival of a bereaved neighbor not only serves as a dramatic reminder of the ongoing war but underscores Juno's humanity, and Jack's Me-First callousness.
Once the truth about the inheritance is revealed it looks as if things couldn't get any worse for the Boyles, especially the family's own Civil War casualty, the physically and mentally damaged son Johnny (Ed Malone, yet another well reprised role). But when they do even Juno's strength and faith crumble.
Only someone with a heart of stone will fail to be deeply moved when
Juno, after two hours of emotional restraint, burst out with a heart-wrenching cry to the God she feels hAs deserted her: "Sacred Heart o' Jesies, take away our hearts an' give us hearts of flesh."
Religious or not, rich or poor, hearts of flesh, are what we all need.
To close with a final reminder: Be sure to save your program. Unlike another Off-Broadway theater (Classic Stage) that has given up printed programs and extensive enrichment notes, the Irish Rep's program is a treasure trove of background information about O'Casey, the events of each of his Dublin plays, as well as readings and other events that are part of this wonderful tribute.
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Juno and the Paycock
Directed by Neil Pepe
Cast:Una Clancy (Mrs. Tancred) Terry Donnelly (*Masie Madigan),Rory Duffy (Ensemble), Meg Hennessy (Ensemble),John Keating (Joxer Daly), Robert Langdon Lloyd (Needle Nugent),Ed Malone (Johnny Boyle*),Michael Mellamphy (Ensemble)Cierán O'Reilly (Capt. Jack Boyle),Maryann Plunkett (Juno),James Russell (Charles Bentham),Harry Smith (Jerry Devine).
Sets: Charlie Corcoran
Costumes: Linda Fisher & David Toser
Lighting: Michael Gottlieb
Sound Design: Ryan Rumery & M. Florian Staab
Properties: Deirdre Brennan
Production Stage Manager: Arthur Atkinson
Runnng Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
The Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage of Irish Rep on 22nd Street
The second installment of the Rep's Sean O'Casey trilogy - first installment Shadow of a Gunman
From 3/09/19; opening 3/19/19;closing 5/25/19.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 3/16/19 press preview
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