Category: Archive

Theater Review O’Casey’s ‘Juno’: seams, joints — and promise

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

JUNO & THE PAYCOCK, by Sean O’Casey. Directed by Alexa Kelly. Featuring Margaret Kale, David Dossey, Sam Stewart, Don Scime and Elizabeth Cloe. A Pulse Ensemble Theatre, 432 West 42nd St., NYC. Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinee at 3. Through Nov. 8.

The titles of certain classic plays are fairly variable. You’ll read about Ibsen’s "A Doll House" or perhaps "A Doll’s House," while Chekhov’s "The Sea Gull" is often rendered as "The Seagull."

Now, the Pulse Ensemble Theatre has entered the fray and come up with a modest but earnest production of Sean O’Casey’s "Juno and the Paycock" which they’re presenting as "Juno & the Paycock."

Though it’s tempting to wonder what O’Casey would have thought about the ampersand standing proudly, almost musically, where an "and" is generally found, the main thing is that the Dubliner’s 1924 tragicomedy has earned its widely acknowledged place as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

Great it certainly is, but O’Casey’s event-packed study of life in a Dublin tenement in 1922 is also fiendishly difficult to get right, to stage in such a manner that the comic bits, the tragic threads, and even the musical interpolations blend in such a way that the play emerges as a unified whole.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

As part of what the Pulse Ensemble Theatre’s founder and artistic director, Alexa Kelly, calls her "BBC Season," in honor of the plays she heard on the radio in her native England, the company has started the new season with a production of what is probably O’Casey’s greatest play.

In the Pulse’s interpretation of the acronym, BBC means "Bare Bones Classics," which, Kelly told her opening night audience, meant they’d be doing the plays without scenery, letting the texts speak for themselves.

In reality, the group’s staging of "Juno & the Paycock" is perfectly acceptable, on the level, perhaps, of a decent production at a small liberal arts college, with all of the strengths and weaknesses that comment suggests, from young actors "aging" with the help of greasepaint, performers doubling awkwardly to flesh out the textual requirements, and, most damaging of all, roles cast with individuals inherently wrong for the parts.

In a production this rough, and very probably underrehearsed, the touchy, delicate elements of O’Casey’s unique fabric don’t really come together in any truly cohesive manner.

The virtues, then, of the Pulse "Juno & the Paycock" are somewhat fragmentary, with the earnestness of Margaret Kale’s rather un-Irish and altogether too youthful Juno Boyle and the strong singing voice of David Dossey’s Captain Jack Boyle, useful in the party scenes, ranking among the production’s more positive items.

The Captain provided by the physically bullish Dossey starts reasonably well but disintegrates into an orgy of bellowing as the evening progresses, reaching a volume by the final act that approaches the unbearable, considering the tiny size of the auditorium.

Similarly, the ongoing vaudeville routines carried on by the lazy Boyle and his craven companion, the conniving and rodent-like "Joxer" Daly, played here by the scarecrow-like Sam Stewart, tend to become oppressive when performed at top volume only a few feet away from the audience.

Elizabeth Cloe invests the role of the Boyles’ luckless daughter, Mary, with a genuine sweetness and a credible innocence, while Don Scime comes across as a study in sheer terror as the family’s doomed son and brother, Johnny.

The Boyles’ visiting neighbors, the bereaved Mrs. Tancred and the antically alcoholic Maisie Madigan, are played here as they almost always are, which is to say as vaudeville turns, the first tragic and the second comic. In the Pulse production, which closes with Sunday’s matinee but may be revived later in the season, the grieving Mrs. Tancred, whose son has been betrayed by Johnny Boyle, is Maureen Hayes, while the red-faced Mrs. Madigan, as bibulous as she is treacherous, is Judi Polson.

As Charlie Bentham, the schoolteacher who woos Mary and describes himself as a theosophist but proves incapable of explaining himself to the lower-class family into which he may marry, David Hilder is properly stiff and uncomfortable in the shabby tenement his fiancee calls home.

In the role of Jerry Devine, Mary’s long-ignored neighborhood suitor, John Arthur Lewis projects a suitable blend of skittishness and concern.

The basic problem with the Pulse’s "Juno" is that the textual seams and joints tend to show, and, to an extent, the work’s tonal shifts too often tend to give off the sound of grinding gears. Along the same lines, the Boyles here don’t really seem to coalesce into a believable family, although they may well do so with continued playing, even given the Pulse’s limited (and unlimiting) schedule.

Director Kelly has built some nice touches into her blocking, such as, in Act II, the Captain’s vigorous efforts to keep Joxer from soiling the flat’s new furniture.

Again, actor Dossey’s musicality proves useful and effective in an Act I moment in which the Captain sings to Juno and briefly melts the icy shell of bitterness and resentment she has built up in the course of decades of living with him.

The Pulse Ensemble Theatre is to be commended for taking on a play as daunting and as demanding as "Juno & the Paycock." Mounting such a work is precisely the sort of journey a young company with serious goals should attempt. The fact that their destination isn’t actually reached is, in a sense, secondary.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese