By Karen Isaacs
Sean O’Casey is one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights and the Irish Rep this spring is producing three of his works that were part of what was called “The Dublin Trilogy.” Shadow of a Gunman is the first to open and it will be followed by Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and The Stars. A big undertaking.
Shadow of a Gunman is not performed as often as Juno so may be unfamiliar to many audiences. Set in a rooming house in Dublin in 1920, the IRA is campaigning for Irish independence and the British Army, referred to as the Black and Tan, are trying to quell the violence. In 1922, the Irish Republic (minus the six northern counties renamed Northern Ireland,) gained independence though that did not stop the violence. Many wanted and still want a united Ireland.
In the rooming house, we find Seumas Shields, a salesman who is sharing the small room with Donal Davoren. a young writer/poet. But everyone in the house is convinced he is an IRA gunman on the run and he does nothing to refute the idea. During the course of one day, much happens in this house and we meet some vivid characters.
The play is less focused on what happens but on the individuals in the boarding house and the relationships. These characters are all deluding themselves in some way, though as is often with O’Casey, the women have a clearer view of reality than the men, whose egos prevent them from seeing the truth.
First of all, we have Minnie Powell, played charmingly by Meg Hennessy. Minnie is a young woman who is taken with Donal and the thought of his mysterious career. Though her flirtation is obvious, he seems for much of the time oblivious to it; yet he can’t help but succumb. Then there’s the busy-body landlady, Mrs. Henderson who knows everyone’s business or at least she thinks she does.
It seems that all of the residents of the tenement make their way into the room. Mr. Gallagher comes from a neighboring house to ask Donal to approve and take a letter to the IRA asking for help. Mr. Grigson (a fine John Keating) is the pro-British Protestant in the group; his wife is constantly trying to keep him away from the bottle. Tommy Owens is a young man who wants to impress Donal with his IRA sympathies and his desire to fight.
Each of these and others are trying to live with the constant possibility of either an IRA attack or a visit from the Black & Tan who don’t distinguish between Protestant and Catholic.
Very early in the play, Seumas’ friend, Maguire arrives with a satchel which he asks Seumas to keep for him. Knowing audiences will recognize that the satchel may not be so innocently carrying salesman samples and will cause trouble in the end.
Once again, the Irish Rep has given us a high quality production that is true to the O’Casey sense of language and place. Under the direction of Ciarán O’Reilly, not only does the pace keep you involved but with the fine cast, you are concerned about each of the characters. None become a stereotype or easily pigeon-holed. Scenic designed Charlie Corcoran has made fine use of the stage and the side aisle to create the authentic looking shabby tenement. Ryan Rumery & M. Florian Staab produce realistic sounds of gunfire and Black & Tan movements.
This is a production well worth seeing. I’m looking forward to the next two parts of the trilogy.
For tickets, visit Irish Rep.