by Geoff Hoff~
Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, to horribly misquote one of its own characters, is “a darlin’ play. A darlin’ play.” It is, like much Irish art, a fine and disturbing mixture of comedy and tragedy, of fantasy and reality. It could even be considered a precursor to the very American play, Death of a Salesman, about a family with an amazingly delusional head of the household. The effects of that delusion in Juno are quite distinct, however, from that of Miller’s play.
Set after the short lived 1916 Easter Rebellion, when many people died fighting for independence from England, then more died as the rebels fought amongst themselves over what that independence would look like, the entire play takes place in the squalid Dublin tenement apartment of “Captain” Jack Doyle and his family. Doyle is called captain because he turned one short trip as a merchant seaman into a life story. He spends his days, and his family’s meager money, drinking and playing cards with his flatterer of a friend, Joxy. His wife, who he has nick-named Juno, is the only one in the family who works and is the only one who has much of a sense of reality, although even she succumbs to a bit of fantasy when a promise of money is presented to the family and when she dismisses the suffering of a neighbor whose son has been killed in the on-going struggles between the rebellious factions.
The two grown children live in their own private worlds. Johnny, crippled from bullet wounds suffered during the rebellion, becomes increasingly more paranoid and unable to take care of himself. It seems he has committed a moral crime quite at odds with the principle he fought and was incapacitate for. Mary believes principle is the most important thing, and is striking against the company for their treatment of one of her female co-workers. Her principles, however, don’t reach as far as her personal life, and she throws over the young union organizer she is dating for an English teacher who is also studying the law because she thinks he will bring her up in the world, will take her away from the poverty of her life.
And all the while, Boyle drinks and sings and plays cards, refusing any work that comes his way because of the phantom pains in his legs. It is because of Mr. O’Casey’s genius as a writer that we find him charming even as his delusion ultimately destroys everything around him. The language of the script is poetic, charming, profane and beautiful. The characters are rich and we follow them all the way through to the tragic ending.
The production of Juno and the Paycock, now playing at the Odyssey Theatre, doesn’t quite live up to the charm, nor the tragedy, of O’Casey’s masterpiece. There are a couple of wonderful performances. Armin Shimerman as Dolye’s best drinking buddy Joxer, is brilliant. He is a flatterer who will emphatically go along with anything you say (as long as a sip of beer or whiskey is involved) and will stab you in the back at the first opportunity, will steal your food and drink while you’re not looking and talk bad about you to any one who will listen when you aren’t there. Mr. Shimerman brings such life to the man that we easily see why Doyle loves him and why Juno doesn’t trust him to be in the flat unsupervised. We love him at the same time we loath him.
Kitty Swink is Juno Boyle and is also very good. She embodies the resigned sadness of a woman who understands her ne’er-do-well husband perfectly and soldiers on nonetheless. Jason Henning is Jerry Devine, the union organizer, and brings a simple dignity to the role that is powerful.
John Apicella is Captain Boyle and does a credible job. Jeanne Syquia as the daughter Mary is fine, although her accent is inconsistent and she doesn’t quite seem of this time or of this family. Josh Zuckerman plays the son Johnny, and plays the tragedy of his life for all it’s worth, but I never once believed this man is fighting for his soul.
Charles Bentham, the teacher/solicitor, is played by Joe Dalafield who brings an incongruous innocence to a role that requires a fairly large dose of swagger and bravado.
The rest of the able cast includes Rhonda Aldrich, Jenellen Steininger, Reba Waters, Gary Waynesmith, Jeff J. Perry, Jason Liska and Tim Davis. Lily Garrison is an understudy for the role of Mrs. Doyle.
The set, by Chuck Erven, is utilitarian. Much energy was put into a stove that could actually cook a sausage, but not much was put into depicting the extreme poverty this family and their neighbors live in. The costumes, by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, were quite good. Lighting was by John Fejes, sound by Jeff Gardner.
I was excited to see a production of this play, but left feeling like much was missing from the production, directed by Allan Miller. The humor, both dark and light, seemed flat, and the tragedy, both inevitable and surprising, seemed strangely forced. The play itself, however, shines through all that. Even a mediocre production of this play is worth seeing.
Juno and the Paycock plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. The May 15 performance will be at 7 pm and there will be Wednesday performances on May 4th, 18th and 25th at 8 pm.
The Odyssey Theatre is located at South Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 90025, one block north of Olympic.
Tickets: Wednesdays through Fridays $25. Saturdays and Sundays, $30. Student and seniors, $5 off except for Saturday nights.
Reservations on-line at www.odysseytheatre.com or by phone at 310 477-2055