by Sean O’Casey
Directed by John Mossman
The Irish American Heritage Center
4626 North Knox AvenueSeptember 17 – October 23, 2011
In a Dublin tenement in the early 1920s, poet Donal Davoren finds himself the victim of mistaken identity as an IRA gunman. The notoriety of being a “gunman on the run” becomes an amusing and attractive alter ego, especially given the newfound affection of the lovely patriot Minnie Powell. But at what cost?
The Shadow of a Gunman (1923) is part of O’Casey’s well-known Dublin Trilogy, which includesJuno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926), the latter of which inspired Irish patriots to riot.
Photos by Jackie Jasperson
*Member of Actor’s Equity Association
From New City
September 18, 2011
When poet Donal Davoren holes up in a tenement in Dublin, word somehow gets around that he’s secretly on the run as a volunteer for the Irish Republican Army. Though it’s untrue, he makes no effort to correct Minnie Powell, an attractive neighbor who fawns on Donal for his apparent secret, and later he writes the lines, “What danger can there be, bein’ the shadow of a gunman?” More ironic poetry was never written.
Seanachai’s production of this Sean O’Casey play speeds along through a hilarious first act and a more serious, manic second act that involves the rumor of a package of bombs that may or may not have shown up in the tenement. The play’s politics are anything but subtle, and indeed the harrowing scenes of violence and oppression resonate powerfully some ninety years later. Director John Mossman manages both the tonal shifts and the pace of the play with ease, and elicits strong performances from the large cast led by a terrific Shane Kenyon as Donal.
From Time Out Chicago
October 3, 2011
The first act of Sean O’Casey’s 1923 work (first produced by the Abbey Theatre) is so comedic in Seanachaí’s revival, one might be lulled into comfort by this familiar depiction of the amusing and witty Irish. However, like James Joyce, O’Casey’s realism is determined to deflate any romantic view of his people. These characters are heavily flawed: alcoholic, sentimental, ineffectual and cowardly. As inDubliners, O’Casey seems to equate the country’s storied troubles with personal failings.
In an early rant, the highly educated Seumas (an excellent Jeff Christian) complains: “That’s the Irish people all over%mdash;they treat a joke as a serious thing, and a serious thing as a joke.” The serious thing here is the bleak reality of lives among Dublin’s tenement poor, where the IRA found its most willing members. The play opens with Donal Davoren (Shane Kenyon) invoking Shelley while composing a poem; this might prepare us for the impending tragedy of Irish romanticism. Donal passively assumes the identity of an IRA gunman as a way to win the love of Minnie Powell (Anne Sunseri), his pretty neighbor enamored of the nationalist cause.
It’s in the second act that O’Casey’s play gains force, moving toward the painful climax, where Donal’s opportunistic dissembling links directly to the play’s tragedy. John Mossman’s staging captures the abrupt shift, and Stephen Carmody’s vivid set design lets us know just where we are, literally and figuratively: there is a crucifix on the wall but there are no heroes in this passion play.
From Windy City Times
September 21, 2011
There is a type of civilian male who yearns for the adulation accorded heroes while keeping wide of the actual experience garnering such rewards. Unsurprisingly, many of these Walter Mittys wind up as writers. Donal Davoren, the Yeats wannabe sharing a squalid room with street-peddler Seumas Shields, isn’t one of these—not in 1920, with Dublin under English occupation following the 1916 Uprising, its streets patrolled by mercenary agents ( called the Black and Tans, after their improvised uniforms ) exercising all the lawlessness of vigilantes. How Donal’s neighbors, flushed with patriotic rhetoric, come to cast him as an undercover rebel assassin remains a mystery, but when the rumors attract the admiration of the pretty girl down the hall, the meek versifier finds it to his advantage to play along.
The nobody mistaken for somebody is a staple of comedy dating to antiquity, and Sean O’Casey prepares us for a cheerful romantic romp featuring reliable stereotypes (fussy landlords, henpecked husbands, bragging cowards) representing the meddlesome fellow tenants who invade our bachelors’ quarters to editorialize and emote. Right in mid-yarn, however, the dramatic tone does an abrupt turn, giving way to terror after darkness falls and, with it, the martial-law curfew threatening the citizens with random search-and-seizure operations. When Donal and Seumas discover themselves in accidental possession of dangerous contraband, the solution proves to be fatal to the sole member of Donal’s fan club willing to walk as bravely as she talks.
Unlike Irish playwright-successor Martin McDonagh, who juxtaposes humor and horror from the very outset, O’Casey gives us no overt warning of the whiplash awaiting us. Alert playgoers may detect hints in the accounts of events familiar to audiences at its premiere in 1923, but lost on nostalgic yankees in 2011—the latter all too ready to embrace cuddly slum-dwelling eccentrics who just happen to suffer domestic abuse, brutal harassment and untimely deaths.
Director John Mossman refuses to abet such illusion. Oh, his first act is replete with the slamming doors and offstage uproar associated with broadly drawn personalities, but each actor in this Seanachaí production has scrutinized O’Casey’s text in surgical detail to convey the often-unpleasant complexities behind the initial jollity. Nor do they gloss over the injustice of foreign troops bullying innocents forced to become martyrs. The results leave us shaken and outraged, contemplating the contradictions of civil disorder in a fickle universe.
From the Chicago Reader
September 22, 2011
In 1920, during Ireland’s guerrilla war for independence, a young poet allows himself to be mistaken for an IRA gunman in order to impress a girl. The first act of this 1923 debut by Irish activist-turned-playwright Sean O’Casey plays like a light comedy–and drags a bit in John Mossman’s staging for Seanachai Theatre Company. But the hammer falls in act two, when British soldiers raid the poet’s rooming house and the girl gets killed. Mossman and a strong cast vividly evoke the queasy terror of life on the receiving end of counter-insurgency–Did the ex-roommate leave behind a hidden cache of bombs? Is the downstairs neighbor a rat? Is the hyped-up soldier who just kicked in your door going to shoot you?–while skillfully navigating act two’s hairpin turns.