Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 22,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New York: `Juno & the Paycock’

What Sean O’Casey’s political tragicomedy "Juno

and the Paycock" lacks in plot, it makes up for in

characterization.

And in John Crowley’s splendid staging for the Roundabout Theater

Company, characterization gets its due. Crowley directed the Donmar

Warehouse production in 1999. O’Casey ("Shadow of a Gunman,"

and "The Plow and the Stars") wrote this riveting ferociously

subversive play in 1924 eight years after the Easter Rising of 1916,

and only two years after the terrible Civil War. He labeled it rightly

"a tragedy." That may be true enough, but the bracing lyrical

humor of its lowly Irish folk is expressed on such a high and

impressively

theatrical plane that it serves to empower rather than to defuse their

disconsolate lives and the tragedies that befall them.

The story of a chaotic family that misguidedly lives on credit in

the false belief they have come into an inheritance is a doozy.

Although

a filmed prologue of newsreel shots of the fighting and the

demonstrations

in Dublin in 1923 evokes the history, it is the play proper that

provides

the full flavor of the Irishness that so richly pervades and energizes

this production. Enhanced by the superb atmospherics of designer Rae

Smith’s dingy setting and dowdy costumes, and Brian MacDevitt’s dreary

lighting) the actors, both principals and peripheral players, mine

the blasts of poetry even in the midst of the play’s abject realism.

Dearbhla Molloy’s tough-love performance as the razor-sharp wife and

mother of an impoverished Dublin family is riveting. Molloy, who is

recreating the performance she gave at the Donmar Warehouse, frames

Juno’s passionately Catholic instincts with the stirring sobriety

of her pagan goddess namesake.

Jim Norton is vaingloriously blustery as the ale-bloated,

blarney-spouting

Captain Jack Boyle, the "Paycock," who, citing the

questionable

pains in his legs as an excuse, refuses to look for work even when

it falls into his lap. As Joxer Daly, the Captain’s drinking partner,

Thomas Jay Ryan suggests the duplicity of fragile relationships, as

he polishes off more than poetic quotations and half-remembered songs.

The beanstalky Jason Butler Harner gives a passionate and poignant

portrayal of the wounded son Johnny, who suffers from nightmares and

hallucinations, but who has more to worry about when his allegiance

to the Irish republican Brotherhood is questioned. Gretchen Cleevely

affixes a beautifully plaintive courage to the role of the Mary, the

family’s main provider and a member of the currently striking union.

Spurning her ardent wooer Jerry Devine (Norbert Leo Butz), Mary is

seduced and abandoned Charles Bentham, a school-teacher and lawyer

(slickly played by Liam Craig), who brings the news of Jack’s

inheritance,

and without warning leaves town when the windfall falls through.

The play has its melodramatic digressions, such as the extended scene

in which the mourning Mrs. Tancred, as wrenchingly played by Roberta

Maxwell, details the murder of her activist son to the Boyle family

while on the way to the funeral. The somber tone is well timed to

put a damper on an impromptu songfest in which the Boyles and their

obstreperous neighbor Maisie Madigan (Cynthia Darlow) display a little

harmonic a cappella virtuosity.

But it remains for the virtuosity of O’Casey’s writing to take us

from boisterous comedy, to dispiriting situations, to tragic results,

and yet leave us with a sense of the heroic. This, in the person of

Juno, who, unlike her loafer-of-a-husband, who sees "the whole

world in a state o chassis!" (a corruption of the word chaos),

is indomitable and a survivor. HHH

— Simon Saltzman

Juno and the Paycock, Gramercy Theater, 127 East 23

Street,

New York, 212-307-4100. $55.


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