Off-Broadway Review: “The Plough and the Stars” at Irish Repertory Theatre

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  • David Roberts, Chief New York Criti, Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk Member

Irish Rep’s “The Plough and the Stars” (1926) closes after the Sunday June 22nd performance. Part of the Sean O’Casey Cycle (the Dublin Trilogy) at Irish Repertory Theatre, the groundbreaking play ran in repertory with O’Casey’s “The Shadow of a Gunman” (1923) and “Juno and the Paycock” (1924) and was the company’s debut production in 1988. Artistic Director Charlotte Moore directed that performance, the 1997 revival, and this Irish Rep 30th Anniversary Season production.

In “The Plough and the Stars” newlywed Nora Clitheroe (an engaging and fragile Clare O’Malley) is the talk of her tenement as she tirelessly works to lift her family out of their impoverished circumstances. She tries to keep her husband Jack (a stoic and somewhat abusive Adam Petherbridge) from the revolutionary fervor sweeping through Dublin. But Jack becomes a Commandant in the Irish Citizen Army, and when the Easter Rising of 1916 begins, he leaves a pregnant Nora to help lead the fight. The disparate, quarrelsome tenement residents are forced to shelter together as urban warfare makes their home nearly as treacherous as the streets. Passions and ideals rise and converge, but in the end, loss and devastation triumph over the promise of a new Ireland.

O’Casey’s themes of nationalism, divisiveness, religious freedoms and “rights,” the merits of socialism, and fantasy versus reality (fake news, alternate facts) counterpoint powerfully with the current political climate in the United States and throughout Europe.

Charlotte Moore directs the cast with a passionate commitment to excellence. Her staging brings out the best in each actor and assures that each actor’s character is fully developed and differentiated. Irish Rep regulars Charlie Corcoran (scenic design), Linda Fisher and David Toser (costume design), and Michael Gottlieb (lighting design) enhance the staging with the kind of stark realism that would please playwright Sean O’Casey.

In addition to Ms. O’Malley and Mr. Petherbridge, “The Plough and the Stars” features Úna Clancy as Mrs. Gogan, Terry Donnelly as Woman from Rathmines, Rory Duffy as Ensemble, Meg Hennessy as Mollser, John Keating as Capt. Brennan, Robert Langdon Lloyd as Peter Flynn, Ed Malone as Lieut. Langon, Michael Mellamphy as Fluther Good, Maryann Plunkett as Bessie Burgess, James Russell as The Young Covey, Harry Smith as Bartender/Sgt. Tinley, and Sarah Street as Rosie Redmond. 

THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS

The creative team includes Charlie Corcoran (scenic design), Linda Fisher and David Toser (costume design), Michael Gottlieb (lighting design), Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab (sound design), Ryan Rumery (original music), Robert-Charles Vallance (hair and wigs). April Ann Kline serves as production stage manager.

“The Plough and the Stars” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) through Saturday June 22, 2019. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticketing information, visit https://irishrep.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.

Photo: Maryann Plunkett and Clare O'Malley in “The Plough and the Stars.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.