Juno and the Paycock

Thank you, Joe Dowling, for all your good work.BY ED FELIEN

My wife and I went to Ireland in the summer of 1986 to look for forgotten relatives and pay our respects to the source of so much poetry in the English language.  We spent a week in Dublin seeing plays, visiting Trinity College, looking at the monuments from Easter Monday and the wall where John Connelly was shot.  Perhaps the most interesting theater we saw was a nighttime Dublin City Council meeting scheduled to hear a proposal to close the Countess Markievicz Hospital.  Countess Markiewicz was the only leader of the Easter Monday Rebellion in 1916 who was not executed—maybe because she was a woman, or maybe because she was married to a Polish Count.  They built a hospital and named it after her.  Politicians from all parties spoke about what a wonderful woman and great patriot Countess Markiewicz was, and it seemed like no one was in favor of closing the hospital until the maker of the motion explained that there were only three patients left in the hospital and care was being taken to move the statue of the Countess to another location.  It was great acting and wonderful theater.
One of the plays we saw was “Juno and the Paycock” at the Gaiety Theater.  It was stunning and moving.  Sitting at the back of the theater, even though I knew the script fairly well, it was difficult sometimes to make out the words, but the rhythm of the action, the emotional tones and the sheer musicality of the poetry kept us spellbound.  We found out reading the program notes in the current Guthrie production, that Joe Dowling directed that production at the Gaiety, and that production was the primary reason he was hired to be artistic director at the Guthrie.  He told the Guthrie board, “When you see it on the list [Juno], you’ll know I’m leaving.”
He’s riding out on the horse he rode in on.  And it’s a glorious ride for everyone concerned.
O’Casey’s play starts out as a rollicking comedy about a couple of Irish drunks who manage to strike it rich.  In the second act things start to unravel, and in the third act the world collapses into “a terrible state of chassis.”  We go from loving the characters and enjoying their capers to stepping back from them and judging them and finding them wanting.
The personal drama is played out before the tapestry of the Irish Civil War where Die-hards (IRA Irregulars) were resisting the Provisional Government.  The Anglo-Irish Treaty of Dec. 6, 1921, agreed to a partition of Ireland into the Ulster North and the Southern Free State.  The Irish parliament approved the treaty in January of 1922.  In the general election in June the Free Staters beat the Republican Die-hards 58 to 35.  Fighting between the factions continued.  At least 1,500 people were killed.  Eventually they agreed to a truce, but not before the final act of “Juno and the Paycock.”
The Die-hards (the IRA Irregulars, the Republicans) were not content with just the Free State of Ireland, they wanted it all. And they were so convinced of the purity and correctness of their cause they were willing to murder fellow patriots who had now become part of the opposition. At one point it had become necessary for the Irish to defend themselves with the force of arms against the abuses of British tyranny, and once they picked up the gun and used it to solve political problems, some people came to think every problem could be solved by violence. This was the logic of the Irgun and the Stern Gang in the struggle for Israeli independence that has resulted in the terroristic occupation of the West Bank of Palestine, and it is the logic of Fatah and Hamas in resisting Israeli occupation. It was the logic of the Black Panther Party in America—picking up the gun at first to defend themselves against the abuses of the police and eventually descending into street gangs fighting for turf to deal heroin.
The violence didn’t help the movement for social justice. It set the movement back.
The play ends with Mrs. Boyle’s prayer lamenting the death of her son by the Die-hards:  “Mother of God, Mother of God, have pity on us all!  Blessed Virgin, where were you when me darlin’ son was riddled with bullets, when me darlin’ son was riddled with bullets?  Sacred Heart o’ Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone, and give us hearts of flesh!  Take away this murdherin’ hate, an’ give us Thine own eternal love.”
Joe Dowling’s production paints with a broad brush.  The comedy is played as farce and the tragedy with deepest ironies.  It is hard to imagine a better or more dramatic “Juno.”
On opening night, Dowling took a curtain call and bow with the cast, and he thanked the audience for 20 years at the Guthrie.
No, me darlin’ boy, it is us should be thankin’ you for breathin’ life into the words of O’Casey and Shakespeare and so many others.  And now that you’ve claimed a piece of our hearts, don’t be a stranger to us.  Come back and dazzle us again with your fine Irish wit.

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