Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Characters star in O'Casey play

Cleveland Press July 13, 1979

The title characters in Sean O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock" are by now, immortal roles. And in the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival production of the play which opened last night they get the kind of performances that immortal roles deserve.

But what is also revealing about this production is that O'Casey created better characters than he did a play.

Vincent Dowling, the Festival's artistic director, has taken unto himself the role of Captain Boyle, the swaggering "paycock" of the title.

This is a man who is a combination of booze, braggadocio and bumptitiousness. It is a rich role, one that hardly can be overplayed. This is a roguish charlatan, a man who works hard at avoiding work, easy prey for his fawning drinking companion, Joxer Daly.

Dowling plays with strut and swagger, his voice boastful, mocking, questioning and terrified by turns. The terror, thinly disguised, is brought on by his wife, Juno, who supports him, protects him and sees through him.

Aideen O'Kelly has the less showy but equally remarkable role of Juno -- patient, uncomplaining and amazingly strong. Her middle-class respectability has been beaten down but not defeated.

The actress performs the role with a quiet patience that becomes powerful but contained anguish as the play climaxes with its terrible troubles.

Bernard Kates as the buckling Joxer has provide a comic master piece as he boasts and cringes and rolls his eyes and delightfully describes everything as "darlin'.

The scenes between Boyle and Joxer are hilarious and Dowling and Kates strike humorous sparks.

Jody Catlin is appealing as the daughter and Holmes Osborne bitter and frightened as the son.

The play is a tragic comedy but plays best as a comedy. The first act is one of the most diverting pieces of theater there is with Boyle and Joxer and Juno all sparring with one another.

The second with the high living that comes with the expectation of an inheritance seems padded.

In the third, O'Casey piles on all the troubles at once -- the money that was never there, the daughter's pregnancy and her abandonment, the son's execution as a traitor. Repossession of the furniture was almost gratuitous.

And what of Juno and Boyle -- she is left to face a bleak future with her pregnant daughter and he is left in a dead drunk after showing signs of delirium tremens.

There is more pathos in this than tragedy.

Dowling's direction sharpens the play's comic mood and comes to grips with some of the mounting bitterness but there is little he or anyone can do with that final black cloud that comes on as suddenly and meaninglessly as a summer storm.

The play is as handsomely mounted as it is acted. Through it all is the ever-present delight of Irish writing that brings tears and laughter so close together while suggesting a sense of loss and longing. It is writing that makes up for dramatic weaknesses.