Wednesday, December 4, 2013

“Juno and the Paycock”- A Brilliant Look at Those in the Dregs of Despair

By Judd Hollander
Photos by James Higgins

The Irish Repertory Theatre hits a home run with their presentation of Juno and the Paycock, a searing indictment of how far a man will go to keep the cloak of deniability about him, while at the same time showing how some people, no matter how patient and understanding they may be, eventually reach the breaking point. All brought powerfully home by J. Smith Cameron and Ciarán O'Reilly as the title characters.

1922 - Dublin, Ireland. A civil war is raging and people are getting shot in the street. Living in the midst of the turmoil is the working class Boyle family. The matriarch of which is Juno (Cameron), a hardworking woman with an alcoholic and basically worthless husband - "Captain" Jack (O'Reilly) - whose chronic "pains in his legs" seem to get worse whenever he learns of even the remotest chance of a job opportunity. Jack, who still has more than a little spirit left in him, spends most of his time with Joxer Daily (John Keating) another useless fellow, the latter sponging off whomever he can. There's also Juno and Jack's bitter son Johnny (Ed Malone) who had his arm shattered in one of the street clashes and who still has nightmares what happened; as well as their pretty daughter Mary (Mary Mallen) who recently broke up with longtime boyfriend Jerry Devine (David O'Hara) after she becomes attracted to Charlie Bentham (John Russell), a person who may be the key to a better life for her.

As it turns out, the entire family may soon get a better life when Charlie, who works in a law firm, reveals Jack to be one of two heirs set to receive monies from a huge estate. Overjoyed, the family begins to dream about what is to come, with no shortage of people willing to offer them credit once word of the expected windfall spreads. However things are not always as bright as they first appear and soon talk arises that what has been promised may not arrive at all as the family's window of opportunity that all too unexpectedly opened in front of them, slowly and inexorably begins to shut.

Juno and the Paycock is at its heart a strong family drama with the different political factors that enveloped Dublin at the time helping to give it a specific sense of atmosphere. This is nicely illustrated by having a funeral procession passing by the Boyle's front door while they celebrate their sudden change of status inside. It also helps immeasurably that every one of the characters is clearly drawn with nothing stereotypical or caricature-like about any of them.

Smith-Cameron is superb as Juno, a no-nonsense woman who has the patience of a saint and the tooth of a serpent. One long since fed up with the antics of her husband but still sticking by him both for the sake of the family and because she loves him still. It takes a threat to one of her children to realize that if she doesn't try to change things for herself and those around her, no one else will.

O'Reilly does very well with the character of Jack, a rouge of a fellow with a gift for the blarney. The stories he tells even when everyone, including the audience, knows full well he is lying are hilarious. The Captain is not so much a dreamer as he is a realist, accepting his position in life, happy in drink and in the company of Joxer - a man who's presence can lead to no good, but Jack is long past the point of caring about such things. There's a pivotal moment when he realizes what his options are and one can see just how tiny this once gregarious man has become.

Keating is interesting as Joxer, playing the role as more of one continually in the right place at the right time rather than a consummate schemer who cannot be trusted. Likeable enough, he will not think twice of betraying a friend if it is to his advantage. Joxer is also a born survivor, always finding someone he can take advantage of and leaving one with no doubt he will always land on his feet, albeit on the backs of others.

Malone nicely gives Johnny a haunting quality, a man prone fits of terror as a result of past events and his involvement in them. Mallen is good as the hopeful Mary, a girl wanting something more than the life to which she was raised, though she's not above letting her heart get in the way of reason. O'Hara gives Malone a salt-of-the-earth quality as one who loves Mary dearly even as she begins to grow beyond him. Russell works well as Bentham, a man whose motives may not be as pure as originally thought.

Charlotte Moore's direction is excellent here, keeping the show tightly focused and intimate while allowing the cast and situations to connect with the audience; be the moments comic, dramatic or a combination of both. There is also no feeling whatsoever of the show being stilted or overlong.

James Noone's set of the Boyle home is well done, nicely adding to the feeling of both the hopelessness, and later hopefulness the family feels - at least for a while. The lighting effects by Brian Nason are good and the sound design by M. Florian Staab is strong.

An intimate portrait of a family at wit's end as life threatens to completely overwhelm them while they continue slowly tearing each other apart, this production of Juno and the Paycock is a winner at every level.

Also in the cast are Terry Donnelly, Fiana Tobin, Laurence Lowry, Ciaran Byrne and Kern McFadden.

Juno and the Paycock

Featuring: Mary Mallen (Mary Boyle), J. Smith-Cameron (June Boyle), Ed Malone (Johnny Boyle), David O'Hara (Jerry Devine), Ciarán O'Reilly ("Captain" Jack Boyle), John Keating (Joxer Daly), James Russell (Charlie Bentham), Terry Donnelly (Maisie Madigan), Fiana Tobin (Mrs. Tancred), Laurence Lowry (Neighbor/An Irregular/A Moving Man), Ciaran Byrne ("Needle" Nugent), Kern McFadden (An Irregular Mobilizer)

Written by Sean O'Casey
Scenic Design: James Noone
Costume Design: David Toser
Lighting Design: Brian Nason
Sound Design: M. Florian Staab
Properties: Sven Henry Nelson
Wigs: Robert Charles Vallence
Dialect Coash: Stephen Gabis
Casting: Deborah Brown
Production Stage Manager: Pamela Brusoski
Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca C. Monroe
Press Representative: Shirley Herz Associates
Directed by Charlotte Moore

Presented by The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Tickets: 212-727-2737 or
Running Time: Two Hours, 15 minutes, with one intermission

Closes: December 29, 2013