You’re probably familiar with “travel poster Ireland”: the verdant countryside and all that.
Juno and the Paycock has nothing to do with that pretty part of the country.
The story is set in the grinding poverty of working class Dublin in the 1920s, during a nasty civil war, as Irish Republican gunmen roamed the streets by night as the Irish attempted to break away from British rule.
Sean O’Casey’s Paycock is one of the great Irish plays of that era, but most Americans have never seen it. It’s currently onstage in Sacramento, and the production is worth seeking out.
The play begins with domestic discord between the longsuffering Juno, weary of supporting her unemployed husband, Jack, who’s fond of drink. These scenes are played for laughs, sorta like a Celtic forerunner of Jackie Gleason’s 1950s series The Honeymooners.
But humor turns to horror in the third act. One of the play’s central characters is a moody young amputee, who lost his arm when a terrorist bomb exploded. Now, the young man is accused of passing secrets to the British authorities. When two masked IRA gunmen come to the door, he knows his fate is sealed.
As this play hurtles toward it’s powerful conclusion, and the central family disintegrates before your eyes, you realize you’re a long, long ways from the quaint Ireland of step dancers and leprechauns.
This sturdy little production features a large cast, with strong performances by veterans Ed Claudio, Michele Koelher and James Anderson. It’s a long play — two-and-a-half hours, two intermissions. But I encourage you to go — it will be time well-spent, getting to know this classic script.
Juno and the Paycock continues through February 17 at California Stage in Sacramento.