Review: 'Juno and the Paycock' at Plays & Players

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The Boyle matriarch, Juno (Kirsten Quinn), with ne'er-do-well husband "Captain" Jack (Ethan Lipkin) and son Johnny (Kevin Rodden).

Philly's newish Irish Heritage Theatre has made its way through two-thirds of Sean O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy. Last season featured The Shadow of a Gunman, that drawing back of the curtains on a tenement apartment and its inhabitants during Ireland's War of Independence. Two years later in O'Casey's Dublin, it's another apartment, in perhaps another tenement, as Juno and the Paycock make their way through the wreckage of one war even as they're listing into another: the Irish Civil War.

This being classic Irish theater, between bombings and shootings, there's lots of yarn spinning, drinking, a bit o' hoofing and balladeering, and gossip galore in Juno and the Paycock. Kirsten Quinn's Juno, matriarch of the Boyle clan, seems to be always tidying up, forehead creased with worry, sharp eyes cutting through whatever nonsense her ne'er-do-well husband, "Captain" Jack (Ethan Lipkin), might be serving.

It's a good thing Quinn is up to the challenge of corralling the building's personalities, because little else about this production matches director Peggy Mecham's ambitions. This is a three-act show with an 11-member cast and formidable history. It also requires the right amount of balance, and whether it's Mecham's fault or Lipkin's, Jack falls far overboard with a stuttering, high-pitched performance that sabotages nearly every scene. For a man with such a large presence, his character holds zero weight, and along with those irritating vocal tics, he's giving a performance for another play entirely.

There are other problems: actors who barely attempt a brogue; blurry photo projections that depict what may or may not be industrial Dublin, or, oddly, clip art of pitchers and flowers. A few things also go right. Angelique Bouffiou holds her own as the flamboyant neighbor Maisie Madigan, despite being made up to look like a Halloween version of a Roaring '20s vamp.

And therein lie the troubles. Juno and the Paycock is always relevant, because young men are always wanting to die (or not wanting to die) for a Cause. It's a pity that Irish Heritage Theatre chose to shirk its heritage and present an O'Casey burlesque, because the real thing - gritty, funny and painful - speaks best when allowed to speak plainly.

Additional performances: Through Oct. 31 at Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. Tickets: $15-$25. www.irishheritagetheatre.org