“Juno” is not “My Fair Lady” or “West Side Story”, two blockbusters that opened on Broadway that same year, 1959. It was in fact the successful transformation of Shaw’s “Pygmalion” into “My Fair Lady” that allegedly assured playwright Sean O’Casey that his work, “Juno and the Paycock” could similarly sail as a musical to wider audiences. It did not. After only 16 performances its Broadway run closed.
Timeline Theatre Company’s remount of “Juno”, masterful though the staging, acting and direction (Nick Bowling with Music direction by Doug Peck and Elizabeth Doran) is, still lays bare why Broadway success eluded “Juno”.
This is a story where the characters are revealed, not transformed, and where the overarching emotion is shame. Because its essence is a story of shame, its lighthearted song and dance numbers (book by Joseph Stein; music and lyrics by Marc Blitzstein) feel at odds with its essence.
Many of the tunes, while not the masterstrokes of West Side Story perhaps, are lovely. But still…
The story is set in Ireland before the shorthand phrase “the troubles” was apparently commonplace. Juno Boyle (Marya Grady) struggles to keep her family intact, with no help from her n’er do well husband (Ron Rains), whose main pursuit seems to be another pint with his mates, and especially best pal Joxer Daly (James Houghton).
These actors give their parts their due, and in fact the entire ensemble shines. If anything Timeline’s small space in the Wellington Church seems to help the story, which one can easily imagine getting more lost on a cavernous Broadway stage.
If all things Irish and/or the long history of Irish struggles against the British set you afire go see this show. It’s part of the history. Or, if you admire Sean O’Casey’s body of work make your due diligence pilgrimage to this show. For others, despite the strokes of mastery we have rightfully come to expect from Timeline Theatre, be forewarned that you have to buy into a notion of shame and merriment hand in hand being the Irish way in order for this play not to disappoint.
“Juno” runs through July 27 at the Timeline Theatre, 615 West Wellington.
To purchase tickets call 773 281 – TIME (8463) or visit Timeline Theatre’s website.