Pointing out that melodramas were a garden variety offering in 19th-century Manhattan isn’t news. But what about melocomedies? There’s a term you don’t hear often, but it’s the only way to properly describe Dion Boucicault’s 1874 play,
The Shaughraun, which is getting a rare and worthwhile production at the always-pioneering Irish Repertory Theatre, under Charlotte Moore’s direction.
So what and who is a "shaughraun," anyway? In this context, he’s Conn (Patrick Fitzgerald), a devil-may-care fellow living off the land while he earns dispensation for good deeds. His beneficence is mostly showered on childhood pal Robert Ffolliott (Kevin O’Donnell), who’s jumped off his schooner to be with fiancee Arte O’Neal (Katie Fabel).
Robert’s disappearance has Captain Harry Molineux (Mark Shanahan) on his trail, a path that leads to Robert’s sharp-tongued sister Claire (Allison Jean White) It also brings him and everyone else in conflict with scheming Corry Kinchela (Sean Gormley) and confederate Harvey Duff (Tim Ruddy), who want to get Robert out of the way for several devious reasons. How Kinchela and Duffy are foiled and three pairs of lovers triumph — with Conn’s cunning the primary catalyst — is what both Boucicault obviously had great fun devising and what Moore’s troupe has great fun portraying when they’re not just standing around spouting exposition.
Indeed there are times — especially in the first act – when Moore allows the proceedings to remain too static. Moreover, set designer Klara
Zieglerova has had her own trouble meeting the challenges offered by a
small budget, a large cast, and a script covering too many rural Ireland locations.
As Conn, Fitzgerald dives into the character’s many diversions with passion, so it’s forgivable that he sometimes forgets to get the dialogue intelligibly. As Moya Dolan, the local maid who falls for him no matter what his failings in the reputable-citizen department, Emma O’Donnell is her own kind of naughty.
Kevin O’Donnell is dashing and forthright as the innocent-of-all-charges Robert, and Fabel is earnest and lovely as his inamorata. Additional eye-catching turns come from Ruddy as dogged Duff, Terry Donnelly as Conn’s upbraiding mom, Geddeth Smith as steady Father Dolan, and Gormley, who would undoubtedly be a master mustachio-twirler if he had one to twirl.
Best of all are the love-hate-hate-love scenes between Shanahan, who gets to impersonate an Englishman smitten against his officer’s judgment with the sister of the man he’s pursuing, and White as the outspoken object of his affection.