Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock,” set in Dublin in 1922 during the Irish Civil war, is getting a new revival at the Irish Repertory Theater, which staged it in 2013 (See review in Search) under the direction of Charlotte Moore. This time around Neil Pepe is having a directorial go at the classic, and the result is a production that still packs dramatic force, and as is the normal case for the Irish Rep, the actors are to be enthusiastically applauded for the job they do in bringing O’Casey’s characters to life.
The action swirls around the Boyle family in a simple Dublin flat (appropriate scenic design by Charlie Corcoran). Ciarán O’Reilly is back again in the role of ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle, who once was a ship’s captain but has become a blustering lay-about complaining of leg pains that keep him from seeking work.
The family is held together by his wife, Juno, this time portrayed with admirable stalwartness and sensitivity by the excellent Maryann Plunkett. She is close to her daughter Mary, played appealingly by Sarah Street, who will become a central figure as a result of what happens to her. The son in the family is Johnny (Ed Malone, also in the previous staging), who has lost an arm in the fighting, mopes about the flat and is given to outbursts of anger. We will learn that what he has done has made him a target.
The family friend Joxer Daly is a role that provides much comic relief and is a juicy one for an actor, and John Keating makes the most of the opportunity with his over-the-top presence and performance, especially when he incompetently tries to spout wisdom.
The family thinks it has become the beneficiary of a large sum of money when upscale-looking lawyer Charles Bentham (James Russell) arrives with such news. But the promise collapses when an army of supposed relatives claim the estate. What does happen is that Bentham and Mary hit it off with a romance, but Mary is left with the result, an unwanted pregnancy, with Bentham having gone off to England.
Casey’s writing reflects what the plight would be for a young Irish woman in the 1922 era, and she and her mother, more understanding than Mary's furious father, decide to leave together. Street as Mary acts with remarkable dignity, which makes us sympathize deeply with her. In another stage of the drama, tragedy strikes with respect to Johnny, and ‘Captain’ Jack’s financial situation totally crumbles.
Others is the cast include Úna Clancy, Terry Donnelly, Rory Duffy, Meg Hennessy, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Michael Mellamphy and Harry Smith.
My impression is that while the play’s relationship to the Irish war is still made clear, according to my memory of the previous revival, in this production the emphasis is more heavily placed on the family drama. Whatever the case, this new staging of O’Casey’s work is extremely impressive and well-acted. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed March 29, 2019.