Chicago Theatre Review
From Rags to Riches and Back Again
Juno – Timeline Theatre
Life is seldom a bed of roses and Sean O’Casey’s 1924 play, “Juno and the Paycock,” upon which this musical is based, illustrates the full impact of this adage. The title character is a middle-age, hard-working wife and mother in Dublin during a time of great hardship and strife. The Irish War for Independence is raging in the streets, her lazy, drunken husband does nothing to help or support the family, her idealistic daughter longs for a life beyond her grasp, her reclusive son has lost his arm in a war-related injury and she’s become the strength that holds her family together. There’s little room for joy in this story, but when it comes the audience grabs hold, passionately wishing for some happiness for this sweet lady.
Once he saw the success of Shaw’s “Pygmalion” re-imagined as “My Fair Lady., O’Casey agreed to Joseph Stein’s adaptation which sports music and lyrics by Marc Blitzstein. “Juno,” which premiered on Broadway in 1959 and starred Shirley Booth and Melvyn Douglas, was not a hit. It only played 16 performances and, although Blitzstein’s score is considered some of his best work, the show’s never been considered a success. Because of the show’s harmony between comedy and tragedy, along with its obvious historical setting and thematic importance, TimeLine long wanted to resurrect this theatrical piece. It’s the theatre’s second musical, following the overwhelming success of their production of “Fiorello.”
Nick Bowling’s production is genuine and sincere. He’s brought the spirit and heart of O’Casey’s play to the Wellington stage. His production boasts a large cast of fine, talented actors whose exquisite voices send Blitzstein’s music and lyrics soaring to the rafters. Musically directed by the incomparable Doug Peck and accompanied by Elizabeth Doran’s lovely, 5-piece Irish musical ensemble, this piece strikes a chord with its authenticity. The audience seems to become part of the community, seated within John Culbert’s environmental setting that features elements of the Boyle cottage, a nearby pub and the streets outside. The crowning touch are the smells of peat burning and sausage frying on the home’s working stove. Alex Wren Meadows‘ realistic costumes provide an additional layer of authenticity for this fine production.
Every actor in this cast is a marvel. Marya Grandy is a tiny tower of strength as Juno. Her determination to keep her family together and cared for is admirable and the audience truly feels her pain and frustration. The play’s ending leaves us wondering what the future will hold for her and daughter Mary, beautifully played and sung by Emily Glick. Ron Rains makes Captain a boisterous scalawag of a husband and father. Jordan Brown is sincere and heartbreaking as Jerry Devine, a young Dubliner who is broken by Mary’s rejection of his love, and Peter Oyloe is solid as Charlie, a British solicitor and Mary’s hope for a bright future for both her family and herself.
The musical is very much a typical Irish juxtaposition of pain and sorrow tempered with a bit of humor but, like life at times, its dramatic ups and downs leave the audience on a sad note. One hopes for a happy ending, or at least for a glimmer of hope for Juno and Mary, but it seems unlikely. Given their circumstances at the end of the musical and the political climate that permeates all things Irish in 1922, it’s not very promising that mother and daughter will find the happiness they deserve. Still, this musical is definitely worth a visit, if only for its fine talent, its historical significance and the beauty of Blitzstein’s score.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 23-July 27 by TimeLine Theatre at 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-281-8463 or by going to www.timelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.