Directed by Charlotte Moore
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
The Boyle family is a wounded family whose vitality has been disarmed by struggles within the family system and a myriad of conflicts without the confines of that system. Perhaps the Boyles’ most significant problem is economic: “Captain” Jack Boyle (Ciarán O’Reilly) abhors work and the mere suggestion of responding to an offer of work sends sharp pains up and down one leg and then the other. His wife Juno (J. Smith-Cameron) and daughter Mary (Mary Mallen) do their best to keep the family tenement supplied with life’s necessities. Adding to the family’s difficulties is son Johnny (Ed Malone) who lost his arm in Ireland’s War of Independence.
The action of Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” takes place in 1922 Dublin, Ireland just one year after the conclusion of the Irish Revolution and in the midst of the subsequent Irish Civil War and Johnny is the trope, here an extended metaphor, for the myriad of conflicts extant outwith the Boyle family’s inner sanctum. Johnny’s mantra “I’ve done enough for Ireland” is the mantra of many of those wounded by the vicissitudes of war and it is his angst that provides the conflict that drives “Juno and the Paycock’s” scrumptious plot.
On the brink of poverty, Mary decides to accept the good graces of grifter Charlie Bentham (James Russell) and this contract with the diabolical and foppish solicitor want-to-be brings the family to financial and systemic ruin. Johnny is killed by Free State supporters and Juno and Mary decide to leave the “Captain” behind and raise Mary’s baby on their own. “It’ll have what’s far better- it’ll have two mothers,” Juno assures Mary in a statement far ahead of its time. Neither woman needs Jerry Devine’s misogynist refusal to marry a woman carrying the child of another man. They, like Ireland, are ready for a new future.
The ensemble cast under Charlotte Moore’s punctilious direction breathes honesty and authenticity into O’Casey’s script honoring the playwright’s flair for local color and tradition and making his work powerfully relevant to the contemporary political and social landscape. Each remarkable actor digs into his or her character and mines extraordinary treasure for the audience to not only examine but preserve for future generations to enjoy. Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” is timeless. There will always be Junos who struggle with the strutting peacocks of disinterest and disingenuous affirmations of conscientiousness.
In the midst of conflicts over principles, loyalty, humanity, feminism (the New Woman), and the strife with nature, the Boyle family and their antagonists (the IRA) hold fast to the principles that guide their actions, hoping these principles will somehow rescue them from hopelessness. Mary pleads with her mother to accept her belief that “It doesn’t matter what you say, ma – a principle’s a principle.”
Although O’Casey’s play centers on conflicts and issues specific to the beginning of the twentieth century in Ireland, its important themes are relevant to the present century in United States and the global community – all wounded families whose vitality has been disarmed by struggles within and without. “Captain” Boyle could not have been more veracious: “”Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis” (Act III). There is hope in this turbulent world and the play it engenders. In the tenement flat stripped of furniture and family, “Captain” Boyle affirms to Joxter (John Keating) “The counthty’ll have to settle itself … it’s goin’ to hell.” The question is whether the countries we pledge allegiance to can settle themselves before even more hell breaks loose.