by David Walters

Sean O’Casey is back and still packing a punch after almost 100 years.

O’Casey’s The Shadow of a Gunman was the first of his plays produced and the beginning of his Dublin triptych.  The Abbey Theatre in Dublin sold out for the premiere of the play in 1923, the first time in the theatre’s history.

This revival of The Shadow of a Gunman, directed by Ciaran O’Reilly, now playing at The Irish Repertory Theatre, is a period piece wonderfully revived, not reimagined, that has relevance today as both theater and as human drama.

The play takes place in 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, the sounds of which are heard, pre-curtain, tumbling through the streets outside with an occasional bird song and horse neighing.  The intricately detailed set is a down and out, on it’s way to being further down and out, tenement rooming house that reaches out into the audience with crumbling brick walls, abutted buildings and dingy clothes drying on lines.

The main set is a single dark front room of the house, shared lodgings of Donal Davoran (James Russell), a brooding complaining poet, and a more mouth than backbone peddler Seumas Shields (Michael Mellamphy).

Donal is relatively new to the house and Seumas has let the rumor persist that Donal is an IRA gunman on the run and laying low.  Donal lets that rumor stand as he sees the effect it has on the pretty red-head Minnie Powell (Meg Hennessy) from upstairs (“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not”).  The stature of a gunman adds some luster to his persona that is not normally there, and the attentions of Minnie bring him out of his morose poetic melancholy.  His line to himself closing act 1, “What danger could there be in being the shadow of a gunman?” foreshadows the tragic ending.

The whole houseful of comic characters that come banging and tramping into the room throughout the course of the play make this soup a complete meal.  The must pay the rent landlord (Harry Smith), the wonderfully arrogant Tommy Owens (Ed Malone), the can’t get a word in edge-wise matron of the house (Una Clancy), the long-winded letter writer (Robert Langdon Lloyd), the put-upon wife (Terry Donnelly, who does a great job of describing off stage action) and the comic timings of John Keating as Mr. Grisgson, add a palate of multi-colored layers to the evening.

The Irish Repertory Theatre is mounting all three of O’Casey’s Dublin plays, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924), and The Plough and the Stars (1926), throughout the spring, and once all opened will run them in rep through May 25.  Besides the mainstage shows, there will be readings of all of O’Casey’s plays (free admission), symposiums, lectures, screenings and other events highlighting and focusing on his body of work.

When you go, be sure to take a look at the historical context and glossary in the playbill to give further context to the play.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the Dublin plays.  They are a true gift the Irish Rep is giving to us all.  As a theatre lover, I urge you to partake of their excellent work and offerings.

The Shadow of a Gunman – Written by Sean O’Casey; Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly

WITH: Una Clancy (Mrs. Henderson, Terry Donnelly (Mrs. Grigson), Rory Duffy (Mr. Maguire), Meg Hennessy (Minnie Powell), John Keating (Mr. Grisgson), Robert Langdon Lloyd (Mr. Gallagher), Ed Malone (Tommy Owens), Michael Mellamphy (Seumas Shields), James Russell (Donal Davoren), Harry Smith (Mr. Mulligan).

Scenic Design by Charlie Corcoran; Costume Design by Linda Fisher and David Toser; Lighting Design by Michael Gottlieb; Sound Design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab.

Running time: Approximately 70 minutes with one intermission.

The Shadow of a Gunman opened February 12, 2019, at the Irish Repertory Theatre and runs through May 25. Tickets and information: irishrep.org