In Sean O'Casey's The Shadow of a Gunman, the setting is the Irish War for Independence. And while some audiences may not be experts on that topic, the revival that runs through June 22 at Irish Repertory Theatre proves just how topical the show remains some 100 years later. The ideas at the core of this O'Casey play, about fighting for and dying for what one believes in, is not unfamiliar today.
Like other O'Casey plays, the key players in his story are not those of much historical note. Rather, he focus on Donal Davoren (James Russell) and Seamus Shields (Michael Mellamphy) who share a threadbare room in a Dublin tenement. Their morning begins when one of Seamus's friends, a gunman by the name of Mr. Maguire, leaves a bag in their room. Neither man knows what is in the bag, but after Maguire has left, Seamus tells Donal how the other residents in the building think he is a gunman on the run. Donal is amused by this thought, not just because he is a would-be poet, but because it means that Minnie Powell (Meg Hennessy) from a few rooms over has taken an interest in him. Donal wonders what is wrong with being the "shadow of a gunman." And maybe he shouldn't have asked, as he will soon find out.
While the first act gives you every reason to believe that the play is simply a comedy about romance and mistaken identity, the brilliant shift into tragedy proves that this is not the case. Deftly directed by Ciarán O'Reilly, the production walks the delicate line between comedy and tragedy that holds the story together. However, when it moves in an uncorrectable manner towards tragedy, the direction holds up, making you feel for every character, even if you had laughed at them earlier in the evening.
At the end, The Shadow of a Gunman leaves you speechless. Part of the brilliance of this O'Casey play is undeniable mark of tragedy that underlines the lives of everyone during the Irish Was for Independence, even those who lived normal lives. It is brilliant in the simplicity of its core story, and stunning to behold.