Reviewed by James Karas
Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock receives a thrilling production at the Shaw Festival directed by its Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell.
The play is set in a Dublin tenement during the Irish Civil War in the early 1920’s. Maxwell and the cast create convincingly the atmosphere of life in the tenement and the neighbourhood and capture the musicality and rhythm of the play’s language. The colourful characters, the humour, the pathos, the human strengths and weaknesses of the people and in the end their tragic fate are brought forth in a masterly manner.
The Boyle family tries to survive against all odds. The daughter Mary (Marla McLean) is out of work. The son Johnny (Charlie Gallant) has lost one arm in the fighting and has a crushed hip. He has betrayed the son of a neighbour. The father, Jack Boyle (Jim Mezon) drinks to excess and cannot or will not work because of his legs. He is a useless person but a colourful story teller.
Jack and his equally useless friend Joxer Daly (Benedict Campbell) are frequent visitors to the local pub and just as frequently if not permanently drunk.
The family is kept together by Juno (Mary Haney), a powerful woman who commands respect and attention. She sees what her husband is and lives in fear of what may happen to her son, the betrayer.
This very ordinary, poor family gets some good news. They have been left an inheritance by a relative; they have struck it rich. The Boyles borrow money on the strength of the inheritance and go on a shopping spree.
The scenes of happiness, exuberance and hope culminate in a loud party which happens to take place during the funeral procession of the betrayed neighbour’s son. The cheerfulness and wealth will all disappear when they discover that there is no inheritance and Johnny’s treachery is about to be avenged an eye for an eye.
The central character of the play is the powerful Juno and in Mary Haney Maxwell has an equally powerful actor to portray her. Haney gives us a woman of towering strength, compassion and understanding. A magnificent performance.
Mezon and Campbell are superb as the drunken friends. They stagger on stage looking for yet another drink. They are colourful and perhaps even loveable if only they were not useless and had some hold on reality. They don’t.
Juno has a large cast of secondary and minor characters as O’Casey tries to give us a portrait of Ireland at war. Gord Rand is the solicitor who brings the news about the inheritance, pursues Mary and disappears when his negligence in drafting the will becomes apparent.
Jennifer Phipps appears as the distraught mother during her son’s funeral procession to put a damper on Boyles’ party. Donna Belleville replaced Corrine Koslo as Mrs. Madigan the day I saw the production. All to good effect.
The main actors and most but not all of the others managed excellent to decent Irish accents.
The single set by Peter Hartwell was simple but effective.
The olive wreath goes to Jackie Maxwell for this outstanding production.
Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey continues in repertory until October 12, 2014 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.