Two from San Francisco
One of my most favorite plays of all times is O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock. It has always been hailed as a comedy of Irish character and the tragedy of Irish Political life. It is a classic that has been playing in regional theater all over this country and the British Isles. Written by the great Irish playwright Sean O'Casey, it made its American debut on March 15, 1926. It is a staple of Irish drama at the Abbey Theatre and the Gate Theatre in Dublin. I saw a superlative production of the play at the Gate in Dublin ten years ago. I also saw the musical version written by Marc Blitzstein at the Winter Garden Theater in New York in March of '59. Unfortunately it played only 16 performances. The musical had a great cast that included Shirley Booth and Melvyn Douglas. I was now prepared to see what ACT would do with this Irish classic. I was not disappointed. The acting was superb and Charles Dean as the "Captain" was marvelous. He was brilliant as the happy go lucky, comically devious, work shirking ersatz "Captain" who hardly ever went to sea. He was the Peacock, or Paycock, of the piece.
The play is set during the Irish revolution of 1922 and deals with the suffering caused by the civil war between the rebels and the government. The rebel side wanted an Ireland completely free from the British while the British gave the country limited independence. The Brits would retain control over the six counties in the North.
The plot centers on the Boyle family of Dublin during those troubled times. It's a story of a poor Dublin family caught up in the struggle for independence, a story of neighbor against neighbor including women who lost their sons to both sides. The Boyle family is notified that a second cousin has died and left them 2000 pounds. They run up enormous debts thinking they will receive the money any day now. Their hopes are dashed when they find out it was a poorly written will, and they will receive nothing. Also involved is the son who is a traitor to the cause of freedom for Ireland.
One of the great scenes is the last scene of the play in which Juno, the mother, is kneeling to gather her dead son as the civil war draws to a close. She becomes a vivid Madonna in a living Pieta. It's an image so close to didactic that one false move could render it ridiculous. It is a wonderful and touching moment at the finale of this beautifully acted play.
Elizabeth Benedict as Juno was wonderfully sympathetic, strong willed, eminently practical but fun loving and deeply compassionate. The other major player was the very talented Geoff Hoyle, returning to the Bay area after playing one year as Zazu in The Lion King on Broadway. In this production he plays the deliciously craven, pugnacious and high fingered sewer rat of Joxer, the so called close friend of the Captain.
The set was interesting with the Boyle's living room in the center of the stage. It's a cramped set on a tilted platform, overshadowed by exterior stairs and bridges against a background of towering, stony tenement walls. Actors use these stair and bridges like the actors in the Jekyll and Hyde musical. This was one of ACT best productions to date.
It is interesting to note Juno will be playing at the Donmar Playhouse in London in September and I plan to attend that performance. ACT's next production will be Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink opening later this month.
A Common Vision is a Bland Vision
The Magic Theatre, one of our best regional theater who presents new works, has a World Premier of Neena Beber's A Common Vision. Anne Darragh who has been appearing in off Broadway plays and who was the original Harper, the Mormon's wife, in Angels in America has the lead role of Dolores. She is the protagonist of this frustratingly uneven and unpolished fantasy.
The play is like a game of musical chairs and actors run on and off stage saying sometimes just one or two lines. The play drifts from episode to episode with no connecting theme; it needs a stronger gravitational pull. The meditative bit and the comic pieces just don't come together in a satisfying way.
We first see Dolores perched high on a building ledge. She is up high on the stage in a white nightgown and she is in some kind of grief-induced hallucination. Her boyfriend has just dumped her for another woman and Dolores is completely out of control.
Two security guards on the ground level of the stage see her poised high above the stage. They believe they see a white light come down and pull her up toward the sky. Hence we have UFO's coming into the production. Scenes change rapidly and we now see Dolores in a trendy therapist office. He believes that Dolors has seen some extraterrestrial vision and he takes her on TV with him. She becomes a celebrity. Other things happen such as one of the security guards going psycho and pulling a gun on Dolores. He soon gets locked up. The ex wife of the doctor also becomes involved since she is a writer of books and wants to interview Dolores. We find out she had a 13 day old baby who died. Dolores has a best friend who wants to have a same-sex relationship. All this in in one hour and a half.
The acting could have been better. Anne Darragh plays Dolores in a monotone Valley Girl accent. It is definitely not one of her better roles. She plays the distraught woman almost to access. Ann Resnick is a constant delight as Dolores; sex-obsessed neighbor and confidante. She has the best lines in the play and her scenes with Dolores spark up the play.
Eric Siegel is touchingly good as the security guard who becomes obsessed with Dolores after he believes he sees her floating in the sky. John Flanganan also is good as the slower witted but practical partner.
Warren Keith, who has done not only theater work here and in LA, plays Dr Elliott. He was articulate and befuddled at the same time as he comes to believe in UFO's. Sally Dane plays the ex-wife painter Janine. She is pleasantly bright in the role.
- Richard Connema