Directed by John Mossman
Produced by Seanachai Theatre Company
At the Irish-American Heritage Center, Chicago
Taunt glimpse into the oppression of the slum dwellers in Dublin during “The Troubles” filled with colorful characters.
Seanachai (shawn-uh-kee) – (Gaelic for storyteller) Theatre has a winning production of the 1923 drama, The Shadow of a Gunmen, now playing at the Irish-American Heritage Center in Albany Park. As part of his Dublin Trilogy, which includes Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926), O’Casey vividly describes the foibles and wackiness of the slum dwellers from the poor and mostly uneducated class living in Dublin. His works both caused riots and saved the Abbey Theatre.
It is 1920, four years after the Easter Rising and The Auxiliary (“Black & Tans”) are still conducting nightly raids throughout the working class slums of Dublin. Poet Donal Davoren (Shane Kenyon) tries to compose but the din from the tenement and the constant pontifications about the Irish people from his roommate, Seumas Shield (Jeff Christian) makes writing near impossible. Set in their filthy, clothes-strewn room, all the wacky neighbors make their appearances. They all come to meet Davoren because rumor has it that he is an IRA gunmen (aka ‘hit-man’). Davoren is deliberately vague yet he insists he is ‘only’ a mere poet.
The parade of hilarious yet lovable slum residents enters the squalid room: Mr Mulligan (Walter Brody) – the landlord of the tenement asking for eleven weeks of back rent; Tommy Owens (Anthony DeMarco) – a younger man of twenty five who is enamored with the Republican effort – he yields a big mouth. There is Minnie Powell (Anne Sunseri)- a woman of twenty three that fawns over Davoran by virtue of his supposed IRA connections. She flirts aggressive with the willing Donal. The mysterious Mr. Maguire (Jeff Duhigg) – a possible IRA volunteer and friend of Seumas’ – he leaves a satchel to Shields’ safe keeping.
Mrs. Henderson (Barbara Figgins) – a resident of a neighboring tenement drags Mr. Gallogher (Andrew Marikis) – a resident of a neighboring tenement seeking the IRA’s help. His formal letter to Davoren is hilariously presented with help from Mrs. Henderson.
Just when Davoren decides to sleep, his slumber is interrupted by Adolphus Grigson (Rob Glidden) – an alcoholic resident of the tenement and his wife (Maggie Kattering) as they mistaken Shield’s room for theirs.
The wildness of a drunken night is interrupted by gun shots and a Black & Tan raid on the dwelling. Quickly, we see how the macho Shields and the so-call gunmen Davoren tremble in terror as The Auxiliary terrorize the building. Only Minnie Powell has the coolness to do “the right thing.” She hides Mr. Maguire’s satchel in her room thinking the ‘Tans’ will not search too thoroughly.
Sean O’Casey is in good hands under the spirited direction of John Mossman and the terrific ensemble acting (each in rich authentic Irish brogues) from the dedicated cast. The quirkiness and the submerged fear storms to the surface in this often-times funny – yet sad tale of life and oppression in Dublin during ‘The Troubles” of 1920-23. Shawn Kenyon and Jeff Christian anchor a quality cast dedicated and respectful to the works of a great Irish playwright. This is a terrific production.
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Date Reviewed: September 29, 2011
At The Irish-American Heritage Center, 4626 N, Knox, Chicago, IL