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Theater review: 'Juno and the Paycock' at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

May 5, 2011 |  7:15 pm

Juno What bad luck that the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s ambitious production of “Juno and the Paycock” opened during the run of the Druid Theatre’s touring show “The Cripple of Inishmaan” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. 

Although the plays were written more than 70 years apart (Sean O’Casey finished “Juno” in 1924; Martin McDonagh’s “Cripple” premiered in 1996), each portrays Ireland through the saga of a blighted family, and both blend comedy with a grim view of human character and fate.

But if the Druid’s long-running production turns out its drama like a perfectly seasoned cast-iron pan, the Odyssey is still undercooking “Juno” in some spots and overdoing it in others. For one thing, although "Juno'"s cast can’t be blamed for not being Irish, they often give over the spotlight to their labored, competing brogues. 

“Juno” also challenges American actors with its mix of satire and gloom — not our natural idiom. Juno Boyle, matriarch of a Dublin family during the Irish civil war, struggles against destitution while her husband, “Captain” Jack (the narcissistic peacock of the title), loiters in pubs with his two-faced acolyte, Joxer Daly (Armin Shimerman, best known as Quark on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”). Their son, Johnny (Josh Zuckerman), has just lost an arm in an IRA raid and is haunted by visions of a dead fellow soldier. Daughter Mary (Jeanne Syquia) has thrown over her suitor for Charlie Bentham (Joe Delafield), who brings the Boyles news of an inheritance. Alas, their prosperity proves an illusion; Johnny is shot for betraying his comrade; and Bentham abandons Mary in a condition “worse” than consumption. (Guess what.) 

The highly regarded director Allan Miller, also an actor, acting coach and writer, certainly understands how much this play depends on its two leads. But somehow Kitty Swink and John Apicella don’t fully inhabit their characters. Swink’s Juno resembles a beleaguered sitcom wife, alternately nagging and fond (not the terrifying figure that Joxer leaps out a window to avoid), and her grief in the final scene feels forced. Apicella plays the paycock as a pompous, overgrown infant. He’s funny, but he lacks the flashes of irresistible charm that would make Boyle a tragic figure instead of just an ass. All of the actors seem to be at a loss when they’re not talking. They stare into space, react to the speaker with exaggerated gapes, nods and grins, or murmur among themselves. 

It’s possible that these weak spots will toughen up with time and use; if not, now that "Cripple" has closed, "Juno and the Paycock" is the best Irish play in town.

-- Margaret Gray

“Juno and the Paycock,” the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (7 p.m. on May 15). Also 8 p.m. May 18 and 25. Ends June 5. $25 and $30. (310) 277-2055, Ext. 2, or Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.

Photo: John Apicella, left, Kitty Swink and Armin Shimerman in "Juno and the Paycock." Credit: Ron Sossi.