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Joe Dowling Ends His Time at the Guthrie with Sharp Juno and the Paycock

David Darrow, Anita Reeves, and Stephen Brennan

David Darrow, Anita Reeves, and Stephen Brennan

-Joe Dowling puts a fitting cap on his 20 years at the Guthrie Theater with the play that first made his reputation in the United States.

Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock offers a mix of comedy, tragedy, and everyday human drama, all set in an impoverished Dublin tenement during the Irish Civil War of 1922.

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The family is led by the title characters. Juno is the hard-working matriarch; Jack (the "paycock") is a drunken lout who would rather go drinking with his friend Joxer than find work.

The chaos outside comes in the form of son Johnny, who has been crippled in the fight for Ireland. Daughter Mary is also ensnared in the changing world. At the opening of the play, she is preparing to march for a fired co-worker.

The family's poverty is extreme, with things as basic as food and tea almost nonexistent. Salvation comes in an unexpected way: an inheritance from one of Jack's relatives. The poor Boyle family does what most of us would likely do in the same situation: buys some food, some alcohol, and furniture to replace the broken-down chairs they had been using.

O'Casey's play moves between a comedy of manners and a tense drama centered on the violence on the streets outside. Dowling handles these tonal shifts masterfully, building a show with real people reacting honestly to extreme situations.

Irish actors Anita Reeves and Stephen Brennan top off the cast as the title characters. They both give us characters who are stuck together more by marriage than by any remaining love. Also, they both offer some intriguing depths, from Juno's deep well of strength in the face of a decaying situation at home to Jack's rage at where his life has led him.

The supporting cast fills out their world, led by Mark Benninghofen's masterful turn as Joxer. At first, he comes off as an everyday second banana offering mainly some companionship for Jack. As the play unfolds, Benninghofen uncovers a darker strain behind all of the drunken bluster. If there's a villain here, it is the two-faced Joxer, and Benninghofen makes sure the journey is an honest one.

IF YOU GO

Juno and the Paycock Through June 28 Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis '$34-$65 For tickets and more information, call 612-377-2224 or visit online.