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Review: The Plough and the Stars at Irish Rep

In Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars, the fever of revolution is sweeping through a Dublin tenement at the time of the Easter Rising. In one of the rooms, Nora Clitheroe (Clare O'Malley), her husband Jack (Adam Pertherbridge), and Nora's Uncle Peter (Robert Langdon Lloyd) are moving about their lives among other member's of Dublin's working class who visit their tenement. Some, such as the young Covey (James Russell) and the handyman Fluther Good (Michael Mellamphy) are welcome in their lives, while others such as crazy vendor Bessie Burgess (Maryann Plunkett) are not.

In early scenes, humor comes on strong as we witness the day to day lives of the Clitheroes and their friends. And while O'Casey shows off his talent for humor in clever scenes between the young Covey and elderly Uncle Peter, where they take jabs at each other at the generational gap; The Plough and the Stars remains a masterful work that can both amuse the audience and leave them in shock.

Nora is constantly working to improve her family's situation and attempts to keep her husband out of the revolutionary excitement that is rising in Dublin. But she fails when Jack becomes a Commandant in the Irish Citizen Army, and later at the beginning of the Easter Rising leaves her behind, while she is pregnant, to lead the fight.

Meanwhile, tensions surrounding revolution rise in a public house called The Plough and the Stars where people have gathered to hear pro-revolutionary speeches with the company of prostitute Rosie (Sarah Street). The breakdown of civilized behavior shown in the pub only foreshadows what happens a few months later, when Dublin has become a complete war zone. And while there are hints of kindness, especially in Bessie's treatment of the now mentally frail Nora, it is all overshadowed by the constant reminder of the war, and the fear associated with losing loved ones.

Charlotte Moore's direction plays a pivotal role in the success of this production, as we witness the downfall of a community and the devastation that war can wage on a person's life. With a skillfully designed set and lighting that grows darker from scene to scene, the emotional devastation that The Plough and the Stars leaves its audience with is undeniable as we witness the worst instincts of the characters come out in an attempt to save themselves during a time of trouble.

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