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

The Shadow of a Gunman 

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THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN, Ulysses Theatre Company, at Stage Left Theatre. In 90 minutes Sean O'Casey sums up Ireland, past and present--especially its bloody penchant for mock heroics and martyrs. Just as "murderer" Christy Mahon is venerated in Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, so does O'Casey expose Donal Davoren, a poor Dublin poet who's mistaken by his neighbors for an IRA gunman.

It's 1920, and the Irish rebellion is about to become a civil war. Black and Tan thugs raid homes and shoot on sight. Davoren has a fateful encounter with Minnie Powell, a naive girl whose ferocious belief in a free Ireland is no abstraction. (As Yeats described such zealots, "A terrible beauty is born.") But when an IRA soldier leaves bombs in a knapsack in the room Davoren shares with a blarney-spouting peddler, Seumas, he and his roommate panic. If the Brits find the weapons, they're dead.

Enthralling and on target, Kirsten Kelly's staging culls a hard-edged eloquence from O'Casey's tragically topical 1923 play, alternately lyrical, taut, and corrosive. Thomas Jones plays Davoren with an impassioned world-weariness that finally explodes in guilt. Jason Walton makes a vibrant Seumas, a survivor as divided as Ireland itself. Charming and vulnerable, Laurie Riffie's Minnie stands for every ardent soul caught in the cross fire. Every aspect of this first-rate revival by the Ulysses Theatre Company has the stamp of authenticity, especially the clashing accents, designer Susan Kaip's beat-up flat, and Charlie Jolls's furtive lighting.

--Lawrence Bommer


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