For the Irish Repertory Theatre’s 30th Anniversary, they are celebrating with The Sean O’Casey Season, which includes The Dublin Trilogy. In their magnificent revival of O’ Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” the second play of the trilogy, things aren’t going well for the dysfunctional Boyle family. In a Dublin tenement during the 1922 Irish Civil War, “Captain” Jack Boyle (Ciaran O’Reilly), is a ne’er do well who never met a job he couldn’t avoid taking, preferring to spend his time and money drinking to excess with his layabout friend Joxer (John Keating). His daughter Mary (Sarah Street) is on strike in solidarity with a fellow employee. His son Johnny (Ed Malone) has lost an arm and shattered a hip defending Ireland, but is also terrified the IRA will come after him for being an informant. And Juno (Maryann Plunkett), Jack’s wife and mother to Mary and Johnny, holds the entire family together by sheer force of will and love.
A financial saving grace arrives in the form of Charles Bentham (James Russell), a schoolteacher studying to be a solicitor and suitor of Mary, who brings news of a windfall: a cousin of Jack’s has died and left him half of his property. Overjoyed, the family celebrates, and Jack recklessly starts spending money on credit: a new suit, furniture, a gramophone. But what sounds too good to be true often is too good to be true, and the price exacted higher than anyone foresees.
It is the women here who are made of the strong stuff, and in this production, that is never more apparent than in the clear-eyed direction of Neil Pepe and the characterization of the excellent Sarah Street’s Mary, a proud young woman who refuses to be shamed by the men around her for her predicament. Then there is Maryann Plunkett’s stoic, remarkable Juno. She stands up for her children. She speaks her mind to her husband. Even when tragedy strikes, she only allows herself a moment of grief but does not fall apart, because if not for her, no one would survive. She has the strength and courage to walk out of the one home she has ever known and never come back. It can’t be easy. Her husband, Jack, for all of his flaws, is a charismatic, fun-loving man – at least he is when played by Ciaran O’Reilly. He makes you understand what Juno saw in him all those years ago, and why she married him. But in the end, Jack is a destructive force. The same goes for John Keating’s hilarious, mischievous Joxer. Great to observe from a distance. Terrible to be related to, with no sense of responsibility.
In this version of “Juno and the Paycock,” you sense that the women will be fine. Thanks to Juno, they leave with their spirits bruised but their heads held high. The men are left to fend for themselves, to their detriment. When Mary says to her mother, “My poor little child that’ll have no father!” Juno comforts her pregnant daughter, saying, “It’ll have what’s far better—it’ll have two mothers.”