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Friday, December 19, 2014

Theater Review: Bland play offers fine acting

culture@dailylobo.com

There really isn’t much to say about ‘Juno and the Paycock.”

It’s not terrible, but it’s not very good, either. It’s screamy, odd, bland and long.

Written in 1924 and set in 1922, the play is incredibly Irish in an exaggeratedly tragic way. When the narrative starts, it just doesn’t stop, but beats the dead horse into the ground until the metaphors won’t mix anymore.

There’s an impression that the Vortex’s production has placed the script on a pedestal as a monolithic example of great Irish playwriting. This is not to the play’s benefit. So much of the play requires context: the violence and tragedy of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in its earliest forms, as well as, in general, how much it truly sucks to be Irish.

Tonally, there’s something severely wrong with the material’s presentation. The pace is slow and the action uneventful. The actors go from laughing hysterically and pretending to get hammered, to screaming violently, and then back to making jokes that crack them up all in a matter of moments.

To be perfectly honest, most of the screaming is done by Jacob Clark, who plays Johnny. The intent behind his frantic screaming is likely to come off as intensely passionate, but it mostly comes off as distracting insanity. The louder he screams, the deeper his accent disappears into the depths of the noise.

There are laughs and enjoyment to be had, however, even if jumps from boisterous humor and frenzied melodrama are hard sells.

Shangreaux Lagrave plays the drunken reprobate Joxer, and has a clear handle on his character and performance. He’s so good, in fact, that it’s completely distracting. It’s hard to tell if his dedication to his bits and gags are over-the-top or simply a result of constantly being the most interesting thing onstage.

Colleen McClure, the titular Juno, places the production on her back and keeps it there. Her performance is exceptional and her blights relatable. She’s just damn good.

The rest neither add nor detract, for the most part.

Phil Shortell does a decent job as the other titular “Paycock,” ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle. Shortell plays the ‘Captain’ as a buffoonish butt of every joke, though ultimately without anything sympathetic about him.

Accents are often a gigantic problem in local community theatre, but the good news is that the cast, by and large, does a fair job with it. Only the minor characters are disruptive, such as Tom Pentecost looking and sounding like some kind of Russian Bogart.

The set is attractive and gritty, but thin and wobbly. Bits fall off, doors refuse to stay closed, and entire walls threaten to collapse at the slightest touch.

The largest and most baffling issue with the production is the pacing and intermission. This intermission is a quick 40-ish minute first act in. It’s welcomingly brisk, albeit nothing in particular happens during this space of time.

Then the second and third acts seem to be wholly combined, as the second act of the performance runs close to two hours.

Once the tragedy finally begins, the play’s pacing grinds to a crawl and any sense of finality or climax is lost. There is a moment where the audience sits awkwardly in the dark for an extended period while stagehands migrate about, changing the set. This is likely where the second intermission should go.

After this, the scenes just keep coming. Screams are exchanged. Tragedies are explicitly described. And lots more talking.

In the penultimate dark silence, one woman emphatically asked aloud, “…is it over?”

No one knew. And that’s not a good sign for anyone involved.

Juno and the Paycock
by Sean O’Casey
Directed by Brian Hansen
Part of the Southwest Irish Theatre Festival

The Vortex Theatre
2004 1/2 Central Ave., SE
Fridays and Saturdays,
7:30 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m.
Runs through April 6
$18 General, $12 Students
For more information call 247-8600 or visit vortexabq.org