The Shadow of a Gunman | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Shadow of a Gunman 

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THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN, Erin Go Bragh! Irish-American Theatre Company, at Dancetech. Now that the IRA and the Ulster militia have promised a cease-fire, it seems Sean O'Casey's bloody one-act of 1923 may become a relic. Presumably the inexhaustible Irish appetite for martyrdom--O'Casey's target--has at last been sated.

But the cost of peace can't be forgotten, and so Shadow earns a reprise. With the same sardonic, stereotype-smashing humor he lavished on Juno and the Paycock, O'Casey imagines a 1920 Dublin tenement where a Shelley-struck poet is taken for an IRA gunman by an impressionable young believer. As always with O'Casey, the men are malingerers and foolish patriots spouting blarney, and the women pay for their dangerous blather; courage comes from the least likely source. (Interestingly, O'Casey satirizes bogus hero worship the way John Millington Synge did in The Playboy of the Western World.)

Maggie Speer's 90-minute staging is fitful but, like the play, finally explosive as the Erin Go Bragh! Irish-American Theatre Company lovingly if ponderously restores O'Casey's Dickensian crew. Playing the poet who finds his subject in the tragedy he triggers, Joe McKernan lyrically registers the anguish of ineffectuality. Blustering with impotent fury at his countrymen as the philosophical peddler Shields, Neil Wycoff gives his everyman role a clownish grace worthy of Beckett. There's a delightful cameo from Colleen Mitchell as a nosy neighbor, a disturbing one from Jennifer Gehr as a doomed true believer, and Derek Hastestab is both delightful and disturbing as a drunken informer.

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