Juno and The Paycock – Remarkable Company, Rich Play

The second in Sean O’ Casey’s Dublin Trilogy takes place during The Irish Civil War (1922-1923.) To those who fought in The Irish War of Independence, neither remaining in The British Commonwealth nor separation from Northern Ireland was acceptable. As Johnny says here, “Ireland only half free’ll never be at peace while she ‘as a son left to pull a trigger.” Civil War broke out between the newly established National Army and anti-treaty IRA Republicans with guerilla conflict taking a high toll on both sides.

Shadow of A Gunman places war at its axis, while Juno and The Paycock shows circumstance framed by consequence.

The Boyles barely get by in Dublin tenement housing. Mother, Juno* (Maryann Plunkett) and daughter Mary (Sarah Street) work, while ‘Captain’ Jack (Ciaran O’Reilly) and son Johnny (Ed Malone) do not.

Sarah Street (Mary), Ed Malone (Johnny), Maryann Plunkett (Juno)

Jack, whose best friend and drinking buddy, the literate Joxer (John Keating), says a row on the river would make the Captain seasick, spends his time in the local “snug” (pub) with never-ending excuses of phantom limb pain. Johnny got shot in the hip, then lost an arm in the War and is angry, often to the point of derangement. We infer he hasn’t tried to find employment. Life is rough and unchanging, death occurring around them.

One day, Mary brings home middle class Charles Bentham (James Russell) with whom she’s stepping out, much to the chagrin of suitor Jerry Devine (Harry Smith). Though the well dressed, gracious young man manages not to wince at surroundings, facial expression during conversation often looks as if subject to a bad smell. Interestingly, O’Casey makes the outsider a theosophist, allowing the Boyles to express their own much tested religious beliefs.

Terry Donnelly (Maisie Madigan), Ed Malone in back (Johnny), John Keating (Joxer) Ciarán O’Reilly (Captain Jack), Maryann Plunkett (Juno), James Russell (Charles Bentham) Sarah Street (Mary)

It seems Bentham wrote the will for Jack’s first cousin, now deceased, which leaves a sizable amount of money to the Captain. The Boyles are going to be rich! Purchases begin on credit immediately with the entire house refurnished in bordello red.

Celebration includes upstairs neighbor, Maisie Madigan (Terry Donnelly), perhaps O’Casey’s attempt to load the stage with more buoyant characters. The group dances and sings, each contributing a song in his/her own fashion. (Terrific.) Festivities are interrupted only by the playwright’s subtle reminder not to get too complacent.

Maryann Plunkett (Juno) and Sarah Street (Mary)

Two months later, money hasn’t come through, the family’s deeper in debt than ever, and Bentham has disappeared. To say things implode is putting it mildly.

Restructuring three acts into two, the play lags a bit trying to get everything in. O’Casey wrote long, stuffing the piece with peripheral characters. Editing might’ve served. I don’t recall feeling this in the first of the trilogy. Having said that, scenario is never less than rich.

The company is wonderful. Ciaran O’Reilly, co-artistic director of Irish Repertory, who also intermittently directs, is stellar in the role of blustering, unrepentant Captain Jack. He should take to the stage more often.

Ciaran O’Reilly (Captain Jack) and John Keating (Joxer)

As his ne’er-do-well companion Joxer, the inimitable John Keating is utterly pixilated, every literary quote a cherry on top. These two, especially alone on stage, are a master class in acting, every word and gesture aspects of a beautifully detailed piece. And they’re marvelous drunks.

Maryann Plunkett’s Juno is palpably stoic and embattled. An understated, yet piercing portrait of a woman, not a cliché. Sarah Street imbues Mary with appealing determination and stillness, undoubtedly the character’s coping mechanism.

Terry Donnelly (Maisie Madigan) brightens the stage with her garrulous turn, surely exactly as the author intended. James Russell (Charles Bentham) is appropriately straight-backed, well spoken, and enamored, illuminating both class difference and apparently overriding feeling.

I admit to not understanding Johnny’s (Ed Malone) consistently vehement, one note outbursts, robbing the character of nuance. As I’ve seen this actor inhabit other roles with credibility, I attribute this to the play’s director.

Director Neil Pepe is otherwise excellent. He has great feel for both the tragicomic material and O’Casey’s language. (Yes, you can understand through accents.) Relationship dynamics are portrayed realistically as multilayered. Intermittent singing works to lighten. Comings and goings are well timed. Actors listen. The end is wonderfully staged.

*  “Juno was born christened in June. I met her in June, we were married in June, an’ Johnny was born in June, so wan day I says to her, you should ha been called Juno an’ the name stuck to her ever since.” (Jack Boyle)

The creative team remains gloriously intact from the first in this series.

Costumes by Linda Fisher/David Toser are excellent. The state of Joxer’s ragged clothing has regressed too far to bother with, while “Captain’ Jack Boyle’s attempt at looking better than  maintains an air of the “paycock” (peacock). Maisie Madigan’s ensemble and wig are inspired.

Charlie Corcoran, who acquired me as a diehard fan with his fantastic Irish Rep Set for The Emperor Jones, has done it again. The entire theater becomes O’Casey’s slum area. Fully covered building walls, replete with lit windows, stand opposite blown out brick. High hanging laundry dangles above our heads. A hall stairwell optimizes this venue’s challenging pillar. The dwelling itself is meticulously low and specific. In this play, the nouveau rich furniture purchased by the Boyles has just the right louche ersatz French style.

Michael Gottlieb’s Lighting Design and Sound by Ryan Rumery/M. Florian Staab are integral and evocative.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Maryann Plunkett and Ciaran O’Reilly

Juno and The Paycock (1924) by Sean O’Casey
Directed by Neil Pepe
Part of The Sean O’Casey Season
In repertory with The Shadow of A Gunman (1923)
Performances of the third play, The Plough and The Stars (1926) begin April 20, opens April 30.
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22ndStreet

About Alix Cohen (556 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.