By: Myra Chanin
The Irish Repertory Theatre stages the works of Irish and Irish-American classic and contemporary playwrights, and me boyo, nobody does it better. Their current production, Juno and the Paycock, is without a doubt Sean O’Casey’s masterpiece – well, one of them – and the keystone of O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy. O’Casey writes about the life he lived and demonstrates an impeccable ear for the Irish vernacular, making you laugh as he portrays lives of financial and emotional poverty in Dublin’s slums. It’s hard to decide who’s more hurtful to the young people of Ireland, who are equally oppressed and destroyed by the righteousness of both the British and the Irish Republican Armies — soldiers who are paid to kill or principled folks who have no qualms about killing their own in order to triumph.
Be that as it may, the first act is hilarious, laugh out loud funny. The paycock– anti-hero Captain Jack Boyle– struts like a peacock through life with an honorary Captain’s title and hat despite himself only working on a boat once in his life. Juno – so nicknamed by Boyle because every major event in her life has happened in June – is the only employed person in the household. Boyle evades employment thanks to legs that throb whenever a job threatens; their daughter, the principled Mary, is on strike and son Johnny, minus the arm lost in a street bombing, suffers from what we now call PTSD. Also constantly evident, especially when Juno is working, is Boyle’s buddy, Joxer Daly, a leech who flatters and follows Boyle from bar to bar cadging drinks from him. O’Casey’s extravagant portrait of the poetically comic and tragic world of Dublin, a city ripped apart by the chaos of Civil War, depicts an existence where torrential speeches often reach comic heights. As Joxer would say, “It’s a darlin’ play, a darlin’ play.” Joxer has never found anything – except maybe Juno – he doesn’t find darlin.’
Then “a gentleman caller” called Mr. Bentham, a somewhat careless English solicitor, arrives to announce to Boyle that he’s inherited enough money to start everyone refurnishing his dwelling place on the layaway/borrowed plan. Bentham’s attention to Mary further convinces them all he’s her readymade husband-in-waiting who’ll take their daughter with him to a better, more prosperous life. Not exactly. The way Bentham worded the will makes it worthless. Hopes are dashed and reality returns as fate brings the Boyles’ fantasies crashing down in every way possible. The Boyles are unable to avert their fate and the production ultimately tears your heart out.
The Irish Rep’s Juno is both elegant and basic. As always the sets are a perfect combination of modesty, economy and outstanding skill. Charlotte Moore’s direction brings out the best in even actors with minor roles. As Juno Boyle, J. Smith-Cameron’s is awe-inspiring — a worthy foil to Ciarán O’Reilly’s Captain Jack Boyle, who’s too clever for his own good. This production is well worth seeing. My companion, that long suffering saint who is a Bruce Willis fan, expected to nap through it. Imagine his surprise when he stayed awake through the entire three acts and was immensely moved by the performance.
www.IrishRep.org thru December 8th, running time 2 hours (1 intermission)