Light-hearted take on a classic Irish play

"The Shaughraun" By Dion Boucicault • Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., NYC • Through June 12, 2011

Dion Boucicault's "The Shaughraun," whose title translates as "The Vagabond," is one of the few plays to which the Irish Repertory Theatre has returned for a second, essentially new production.

Boucicault, who lived from 1820 to 1890, was probably the illegitimate son of Dr. Dionysius Lardner, a Dublin dentist who boarded in the writer's mother's house.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

He forged a career as a provincial actor in the theater in England, and started to write. His first real success came with a comedy, "London Assurance," which he wrote in 1841, when he was 21, and which was staged with great success at Covent Garden.

Boucicault is credited with 150 plays, some of which were translations, while others were adaptations of novels.

Three of his plays were decidedly Irish, namely "The Colleen Bawn," based on Gerald Griffin's novel, "The Collegians," in 1860; "Arrah na Pogue" in 1864 and "The Shaughraun," which debuted in New York in 1874.

Boucicault and his actress wife, Agnes Robertson, had lived and worked in America off and on since 1853. He wrote "The Shaughraun" as a vehicle for himself, and he played the title role of Conn, the drink-loving wanderer, at age 54, when he was 20 or 30 years too old for the role. Toward the end of his life, his fortunes declined and he ended up a poorly paid teacher of acting, dying in New York in 1890.

The Irish Repertory Theatre first produced "The Shaughraun" in its 1998-1999 season, with Patrick Fitzgerald as Conn, and Terry Donnelly as his mother, Mrs. O'Kelly.

Fitzgerald and Donnelly, both familiar to Irish Rep audiences, have returned to their original roles for the revival.

"The Shaughraun," with its 15-actor cast, is likely to please the Rep's regular audiences through its swift pacing and its light-hearted plotting. Under the direction of the company's Artistic Director, Charlotte Moore, the show never takes itself too seriously.

If there was an identifiable flaw as the preview performances reached an end, it was that some of the actors were a touch shrill, and, at times, a bit on the noisy side. These problems will, no doubt, correct themselves with a little further playing.

The cast list for "The Shaughraun" calls for a dog to play Tatters, Conn's pet. That Boucicault was serious about Tatters might be indicated by the existence of a piece of sculpture portraying the actor as Conn, with the dog sitting at his side.

Director Moore has gathered an energetic young cast for the new production, set in County Sligo in the 1867, just one year after the secret Fenian Uprising had made news throughout Ireland.

The "Shaughraun" cast, some of whose members have appeared at the Rep in past productions, includes Rory Duffy, Katie Fabel, Sean Gormley, Laurence Lowry, Emma O'Donnell, Kevin O'Donnell, Tim Ruddy, Mark Shanahan, Geddeth Smith, Gwenfair Vaughan, Allison Jean White and Jake Jachry.

Oh, yes, and Sadie, an appealing poodle-spaniel mix, as Tatters.