Category: Archive

O’Casey’s ‘Juno’ – with an emphasis on realism

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK, by Sean O’Casey. Directed by John Crowley. Starring Dearbhla Molloy and Jim Norton. Produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company. At the Gramercy Theatre. Through Dec. 24.

If audiences filing in to see the Roundabout Theatre Company’s surging new production of Sean O’Casey’s "Juno and the Paycock" pay close attention to the brief compilation of period film clips and newspaper headlines with which debuting director John Crowley begins his admirable rethinking of the play, they may launch themselves into the Dublin master’s powerful work with a clearer sense of the realities shaping the environment than any playgoers within memory.

It is clearly of paramount interest to the director that for New York audiences seeing "Juno," the play, set in 1922 and first produced in 1924, reflect an immediate background not to strife between England and Ireland, but, mostly lucidly, the struggles between Irish factions that followed the signing of the Treaty in December 1921, engaged in a brief but bitter Civil War.

When O’Casey’s characters speak of "die-hards," and "Irregulars," they are referring to the rigidly entrenched, unbending Republicans who followed Eamon De Valera in rejecting the Free State Treaty that divided Ireland. At the heart of the play are and always will be the forces that tear at the fabric of the four-member Boyle family, the hard-pressed little unit sharing a two-room apartment in Dublin in late August of 1922.

Deep-seated rage found a home in the shabby tenement living room that O’Casey has envisioned, and the precise temperature at which any staging of "Juno and the Paycock" pitches that anger contains, at one and the same time, a key to the play’s generation and one of the potential pitfalls in performing it.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

The Roundabout’s new, and generally excellent, "Juno" has the virtue of keeping in mind that in the case of the Boyles, as with virtually any intact family, there was once a love sufficiently powerful to bring two people together and keep them united, after a fashion, despite considerable hardships, and a sizable catalog of personal betrayals and disappointments.

One solid reason for these particular Boyles seeming like such a credible family is the presence of Dearbhla Molloy, a warm and pliant actress, richly remembered for her work in the Broadway production of Brian Friel’s "Dancing at Lughnasa," as Juno, the steadfast rock upon which the domestic unit, and the play itself, is built.

Younger than the average actress cast as Juno Boyle, Molloy clearly and convincingly projects not only the protective love she feels for her doomed son, Johnny, and her unfortunate daughter, Mary, but the affection she once held for her wayward husband, Captain Jack Boyle, some measure of which still exists in her heart.

Jim Norton, who gave an excellent performance last season in Conor McPherson’s wonderfully concentrated fable, "The Weir," seems a touch older than most "Paycocks," particularly when he’s working a duo with Thomas Jay Ryan, the youngish actor who is the production’s rather beaverish Joxer Daly, the craven and ultimately vicious neighbor who is the Captain’s crony in lassitude and misdeeds.

The give and take between the Captain and Joxer can come off like a rather brilliant vaudeville routine, as was the case in Joe Dowling’s 1988 Gate Theatre Dublin production, a triumphant transfer to Broadway that had the late Donal McCann as Boyle and the redoubtable John Kavanagh as Daly.

The fact that that doesn’t happen in this production is probably a result of director Crowley’s determination to stress the script’s harshly realistic aspects at the expense of some of the larkishness of which O’Casey was capable and which caused his plays to be given the previously unfamiliar label "tragicomedy."

The Roundabout "Juno" is a close cousin of a production director Crowley, who is the younger brother of designer Bob Crowley, staged last season for London’s Donmar Warehouse, of which he is an associate director. With just one performer, actress Molloy, common to both versions, what’s on view at the Gramercy is anything but a duplication of the English "Juno."

Crowley’s objective is clearly to stress the play’s realism, to the extent that early in the first act, when Juno prepares breakfast for her errant husband, the smell of frying sausages wafts 10 rows or so into the orchestra seats.

Later, however, when the Boyles are under the mistaken idea that they have inherited a goodly sum of money and throw a party for their tenement neighbors, complete with a newly acquired wind-up Victrola, nobody really seems to be able to cut loose enough to have a genuinely good time, despite a touching and beautifully rendered duet on the part of Molly and this production’s Mary, the capable and delicately pretty Gretchen Cleevely.

Even the family’s furtive pleasures are fairly joyless as a result of this new production’s unswerving earnestness. There is, to be sure, an abundance of excellent work here. Jason Butler Harner, as Johnny, the Boyle son who suffered a destroyed arm in the Easter Rebellion, only to be shot in the hip during a riot protesting the Anglo-Irish Treaty, is memorable, with a crippled gait that would do credit to a production of "The Elephant Man."

Fine work is turned in as well by Cynthia Darlow as Maisie Madigan, the drink-loving, two-faced upstairs neighbor, and by Roberta Maxwell as the bereaved Mrs. Tancred, who buries a slain son during the play’s tenure.

As Charles Bentham, the civil servant and theosophist who ultimately betrays Mary Boyle, Liam Craig seems more ill-at-ease in the family’s quarters than absolutely necessary, which is probably Crowley’s intention.

Lending solid support along the way is Norbert Leo Burt as Jerry Devine, Mary’s oddly violence-prone tenement suitor, as are in a cluster of brief appearances John Keating, George Heslin, Micheal Lidonici, Kelly Mares and Edward James Hyland, the last-named particularly effective as Neddle Nugent, the local tailor who comes to retrieve a suit of clothes Jack Boyle hasn’t paid for.

There’s no point in quibbling about the few shortcomings that nag at Crowley’s stern, unyielding interpretation of "Juno and the Paycock." The proper approach is to see it, and, by all means, to be deeply grateful for a production this good of one of the 20th century’s finest, strongest, most difficult dramatic achievements.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese