Irish politics make good drama
Juno and the Paycock
Juno and the Paycock is the quintessential Irish political play. It has all the requisites—poverty, politics, religion and drink—and it’s authored by one of the originators of the genre, Irish playwright Sean O’Casey. Written in 1924 and set in Dublin in 1922 during the Irish Civil Wars, Juno is the second in O’Casey’s well-known Dublin trilogy.
Reaching into the past for classics is a rarity for the B Street Theatre, which is known for producing edgy, contemporary work. With this production, the theater wisely made an exception. Not only does the audience get O’Casey’s complex characters, lyrical language, sly wit and rumination on the politics of poverty; it also gets memorable performances that resonate throughout the play and long afterward.
The two leads are particularly skilled at transporting the audience back in time to the Boyle tenement household, where tragedy and comedy live side by side. Mary-Pat Green portrays Juno, the matriarch of the tragic Boyle family. Paul Vincent O’Connor is the broken but still strutting father Paycock (Irish dialect for “peacock”). The actors, both area newcomers, give heartbreaking portrayals of weary and downtrodden souls.
The play was written when the pain of “the troubles” was still raw, and this pain is portrayed in exquisite detail by this powerful production. Juno is the only working member of the family. The father is a dispirited drunk described as “looking for work and praying to God he won’t get it.” Daughter Mary (Elisabeth Nunziato) is on strike, and son Johnny (John Lamb) lost an arm in the street wars. The family’s Irish tenement has peeling paint, worn furniture, framed holy pictures and always-lit votive candles.
Luck finds its way to the Boyles’ exhausting existence when a stranger, a dandy named Charlie (Jason Kuykendall), shows up with an unexpected windfall. New furniture is bought, new attitudes rise, and hope is on the horizon. However, the Boyles aren’t fated for any luck except bad, and their slow ascent out of misery is cruelly cut short.
Director Buck Busfield carefully keeps the production and the actors on center track, never veering too far into morose sentimentality or irreverent comedic stereotypes. He’s blessed with a captivating cast—most notably Green and O’Connor. They are ably supported by the rest, including comedic foils Greg Alexander as Paycock’s “darlin’” pal Joxer and Stephanie McVay as the nosy neighbor Madigan.