For its spring production, the American Irish Repertory Ensemble tackles “Juno and the Paycock,” the second play from Sean O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy.”

The production, which opened Friday at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland, provides a realistic snapshot of life during Ireland’s Civil War.

The play is set in Dublin in 1922. Ireland’s War of Independence from Britain has just ended and the country is now being torn apart by civil unrest and strife over religion and politics. Crippling poverty grips the country.

Juno Boyle (Maureen Butler) struggles to make ends meet as the sole provider for her family while her gadabout husband, “Captain” Jack (Tony Reilly), shirks his duties down at the local pub with his mate, Joxer Daly (Paul Haley).

Her daughter, Mary (Elizabeth Lardie), is on strike in protest of the termination of a union worker.  And her son, Johnny (Joe Bearor), is unable to work after losing his arm in a bombing while fighting for independence.

Johnny now lives in constant fear that he will meet an ill fate at the hands of the Irish Republican Army.

When English solicitor Charles Bentham (Mark Rubin) arrives with news of a relative’s death, Juno’s prayers appear to have been answered. According to Mr. Bentham, Jack’s first cousin has died, leaving his estate to be divided between Jack and a second cousin.

The payment is estimated to be a whopping £2,000.

As an added bonus, Mr. Bentham begins courting Mary.

Jack instantly starts borrowing from neighbors and “purchases” furniture and clothing, with the promise to repay once he receives his inheritance.

And, what first appeared to be a godsend quickly becomes the family’s undoing.

“Juno and the Paycock” is a tragicomedy that combines powerful emotion with entertaining quips and quirks.

The company captures both aspects with a dynamic cast of AIRE regulars and newcomers, under the direction of Sally Wood.

Reilly, who is also AIRE’s artistic director, brings out the humor of the play with the drunken antics and posturing of his character.

Butler, a company member, deftly plays off Reilly to bring out the caustic quirkiness of her own character, all the while tugging at the audience’s heartstrings with her moving portrayal of her self-sacrificing character. Lardie, too, delivers an emotional punch as Mary, allowing the audience to feel her character’s anguish as her hopes and dreams are dashed.

And Bearor’s Johnny is a stark visual reminder of the war raging around the family.

Paul Haley and AIRE managing director Susan Reilly add to the comic relief in standout roles as Jack’s unscrupulous drinking buddy, Joxer, and a fellow tenement tenant, Mrs. Maisie Madigan.

Matthew Delamater as Jerry Devine; Rubin; Tess Van Horn as Mrs. Tancred; and Nate Speckman as Needle Nugent  round out the cast.

Although the play is based in Ireland in 1922, it still holds relevance today, not only for audiences in Ireland, but for audiences here as well. O’Casey crafted a play that examines the human condition.

And, with financial instability and war a daily reality for many, it continues to strike a chord.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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