Monday, June 22, 2015

The Shadow of a Gunman, Abbey Theatre, Dublin

When I learned I was going to Dublin I checked on line for theatre tickets.  The Abbey Theatre site was quite straightforward.  The tickets I printed off half around the world worked just fine the night we arrived.  The Abbey Theatre and the Lyric Theatre were producing “The Shadow of a Gunman” by Sean O’Casey, an Irish classic.
I’d actually thought it was about the Troubles which occurred in the sixties and seventies.  Instead it was first shown in 1923.  Sean O’Casey set the play in 1920.  Sean O’Casey had died in 1964. The first title had been ‘on the run’ but later called “The Shadow of the Gunman”.  We were staying on O’Connel street near the Post Office building where the  1916 civil war in Dublin had occurred. A local told us there were still bullet holes in walls left over from the fierce fighting of the day.
The Shadow of a Gunman was superbly directed by Wayne Jordan. The tragedy goes that Donal Dovoren, ostensibly a poet, is staying with Seamus Shields, a pedlar.  The neighbours in the tenement all believe that Donal is an IRA on the run.  Donal celebrates Shelley, the poet.  Seamus, talks of the church and lights candles to Mary.  They share in high minded conversation reminiscent of the lads in Ullysis. Mr. Maguire, another pedlar who was to help Seamus comes but says he can’t this day, leaving his bag in their apartment. Mr. Mulligan the Landlord wants his back due rent.  Minnie Powell the pretty young girl is enthralled by the poet and wants him to write a poem for her.  She asks him to type her name on page and his next to hers. Tommy Owens, a boy about Minnie’s age interrupts the almost  kiss of Donal and Minnie to insist that he knows who Donal is and wants him to tell his friends that Tommy Owens is ready and waiting. Donal neither commits nor doesn’t commit to the collective idea that he is IRA.  Mr Gallagher and Mrs. Henderson a truly humorous slapstick sort of duo come before Donal and want him to take a letter to the IRA asking them to investigate their neighbour. “and bring guns’.  It’s a petty feud but they presume the IRA would be interested.  It’s reminiscent of the peasants in Dr. Zhivago fighting over wood and elevating their petty concerns to ideological status.  Not knowing what to do Donal takes the letter. Finally Mrs Grigson comes to the apartment despairing because Adolphus Grigson is late. This  drunken Orangeman (prod) arrives late and climbs into Danal’s bed. It’s very funny.  The two men are imposed upon by their neighbours, one of who doesn’t know he’s not in his room.  
There is word that Mr. Maguire has been shot.  The mood shifts. There are auxiliaries in the neighbourhood. There are shots and lights in the night.  In fear Donal tears apart the apartment looking for the letter. Seamus asks if he put it in his pocket.  Donal finds it. They burn it.  This is amazing theatre. The direction and choreography and timing are perfect.  There’s a moment of relief. The men go back to bed.  Seamus then says to Donal, ‘wed best check what’s in Mr. Maguire’s bag.”  It would be a spoiler to go on.  For there’s a raid and Minnie Powell, the girl the men talked about in mixed terms, courageous but stupid, dies.
Whereas I’d been nodding off a bit in the first act I was on the edge of my seat chewing my nails through the second up to the very end. It was extraordinary how real a playwright could make the lives of an era transpire in the  space of a day and night and commit all this to an hour or so of script.  Everyone was affected.  Everyone lived in fear. Even the Orangeman wasn’t safe and the British showed no respect for the ways of the people.  The sense of an invading force, like the Romans in Israel, was conveyed in the writing. The insanity and triviality was all there.  At the lowest reaches of the tenement there was true depth and yet a shallowness so much the fog of war.
Malcolm Adams, Gerard Byrne, Lloyd Cooney, Muiris Crowley, David Ganly, Dan Gordon, Louise Lewis, Amy McAllister, Mark O’Halloran, Jamie O’Neil, and Catherine Walsh were the incredible cast.  Such a collection of professionals they became the characters and the story. I can’t imagine them as any other than those they played.  Their collective wisdom broke through my weary world and lit it with new emotions and ideas.  I came away feeling I understood the Irish dilemma in a way I’d never had before.
We walked out into the night.  I was thinking of the year at university when I switched major from arts to science, decided against being a playwright and went on to be a physician instead.  I’d left the world of dance and drama and taken up a scalpel and prescription pad.  Ever since though  I’ve had seasons tickets to the theatre. I watched Alec Guinness and Maggie Smith in London in the 70’s .  Attended the best of Noel Coward.  Later in the 80’s I’d fly to Manhatten and saw Lauren Baccall and Jeremy Irons.  In Vancouver, Canada, my home , I love best Ron Reed’s Pacific Theatre. It captures those moments of great acting and pause when the director and cast trick you into being intimately apart of the show.
This was a perfect night of drama.  This was theatre at it’s finest.  God, it was good.  It made me question my leaving theatre for medicine.  Not entirely but I am glad that Sean O’Casey continued on to bring us such a play as this .
Shadow of a Gunman, Sean O’Casey, Abbey Theatre Dublin.  It’s playing till August 1st.
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