One of Sean O’Casey’s signature plays, “The Shadow of a Gunman,” is being revived by the Irish Repertory Theatre, which originally staged the play in its 1999 season and is currently featuring an O’Casey cycle bringing fresh attention to the author’s work.
The drama’s power is fully realized in this staging directed by Ciarán O’Reilly with an effective buildup to the shattering climax. The company, with its customary dependability, has assembled a superb cast that milks every bit of the drama inherent in O’Casey’s play set in 1920 during the Irish war for independence and first staged by the Abbey Theatre in 1923.
Charlie Corcoran’s scenic design of an impoverished flat in a poor section of Dublin is the setting for the looming tragedy in which persons not connected to the battle become victims through circumstances that emphasize harrowing aspects of the costly fight for independence.
James Russell is convincing as the aspiring poet Donal Davoren, who diligently struggles to compose his poems of romance and foreboding. He is unduly suspected of belonging to the IRA—not true—but being a romantic figure gives him an aura that appeals to a pretty young resident in the building, Minnie Powell, charmingly and flirtatiously played by Meg Hennessy.
Donal rooms with the blustery but nervous Seumas Shields (Michael Mellamphy), whose business partner, Maguire (Rory Duffy), drops off a bag that later turns out to contain explosives. When raiders terrorize and search the neighborhood, Minnie volunteers to hide the bag in her flat on the assumption that a young woman would not be bothered. By that time, we can assume how wrong she will be.
O’Casey dramatizes the growing horror and the shame that envelops Donal in the face of the outcome. The oustanding cast also includes Úna Clancy, Terry Donnelly, John Keating, Robert Langdon Lloyd, Ed Malone and Harry Smith.
It is remarkable how successful the author is in setting the stage and following through with a tense buildup in a complex play that is only 105 minutes long, including an intermission. The colorful collection of characters offers prime opportunities for actors, who in this production make the most of the challenges. The result is both a further example of of Irish history and the talent that has made O’Casey revered as a great playwright. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed February 15, 2019.