JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK - Through Sept. 10 at the Olney Theater.
It is not as though Ireland's troubles were over. Nor does the world fall to recognize the courage and valor of Irish women as a force for peace and humanity - two of them won last year's Nobel Peaced Prize.
Why, then, does the production of Sean O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock" at the Olney seem so remote? If any play should escape being dated, it would seem to be this one, a theatrical staple since it opened in 1923, a play that is considered to transcend its political background and yet one that events have tragically kept relevant.
But what one sees in this production is nothing more than an ethnic family situation comedy: a humorously weak tippling father, a morally weak wild-eyed son, a romantically weak sweet daughter. And Juno, the great Roman queen-goddess who keeps the heavens together - Juno, here, is nothing more than a fussy housewife.
The element that James D. Waring chose to emphasize in his direction is the comic, certainly one of the strengths of the play. But it is so much at the expense of the play's tragedy that Pauline Flanagan, fine as the Juno who terrorizes her husband's drinking companion, seems very small when struck by grief, reduced to a mere petulance when she should be at her grandest. Her speech about what it is to lose a child - the character whom Vivienne Shub gives dignity - is on a level with her moans about having the furniture repossessed.
The "payrock," the strutting husband, is a character with less of a tragic side but Robert Symonds skips that aspect entirely to do the bumbling ne'er-do-well, which he does so it is, indeed, funny. So is Jarlath Conroy as his friend - but without any serious context. The two of them become, merely, The Joke About the Two Irishmen. And the joke seems to be that one of them has a shrewish wife. That's a pretty sad fate for a mother-goddess.