There's an old Irish joke about some IRA stalwarts who plan to ambush an inoffensive postman who just happens to be on the other side. When he doesn't appear after a lengthy wait, the leader of the group moans, "I hope nothin's happened to the poor man!"
That's the sort of Irish irony at the core of Sean O'Casey's "The Shadow of a Gunman," in which an innocent young poet is caught up in a raid by English soldiers on a boarding house suspected of harboring IRA agents.
Basically apolitical at this point in his life, O'Casey wasn't laughing at the situation, just being honest: "The Irish can turn a serious thing into a joke," says the poet's roommate, "and turn a joke into a serious thing."
This authentic and well-wrought production of O'Casey's play at Celtic Arts Center's An Claidheamh Soluis accomplishes the same trick. Its somber tones are a dark background to its earthy humor, and its sense of hope overrides the basic hopelessness.
Most of the production's success is in the flawless direction of Brian o h-Eachtuigheirn. He also gives a riotous performance as Shields, the reprobate roommate who is O'Casey's voice for the inevitability of the continuing struggle. Tim Ruddy's Davoren--the poet suspected of being an IRA gunman, but actually only the shadow of one--has exactly the right naivete and dreamy optimism.
Richard Scully's wonderfully cluttered set and Peter Strauss' appropriately shadowed lighting add much to the flavor.
At 5651 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Fridays & Saturdays, 8 p.m.; runs indefinitely. $10; (213) 462-6844.
'Going On' Gives Glimpse of Backstage
Very little happens in Charles Dennis' dressing room comedy "Going On," at the Callboard Theatre, but that's OK. It offers a charming glimpse into that backstage backwater where understudies sit and wait--they also serve.
Lynn gave up her career for marriage, and gave that up to return to her first love, acting. Maria O'Brien's detail and shading bolster her unerring honesty as slightly worn Lynn, steering carefully around the bumps of an always shaky career. Playwright Dennis just barely overcomes the risk of playing a part he wrote for himself, but most of the time makes it just fine as a perennial understudy who will probably never rise above his lot.
Even under Daniel O'Connor's well-modulated direction, it would help the playwright and the actor if the budding romance between the two characters, like Ibsen's famous pistol, were planted in the first act instead of being sprung on the audience at the end. But it is one of those impetuous moves actors are prone to.
At 8451 Melrose Place, West Hollywood; Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m.; ends Dec. 9. $17.50-$20; (213) 466-1767.
'Tearsheets' Zeroes in on Family Revelations
Joan Hotchkis' one woman show at Highways, "Tearsheets: Letters I Didn't Send Home," is a stew of theater and performance art that hasn't blended in the cooking.
When Hotchkis zeroes in on her autobiographical family revelations, she's interesting, theatrical and watchable. When she's pushing a slide projector around so family photos can be seen by viewers on both sides, or spinning beneath diaphanous material like Isadora Duncan, she's amateurish and pretentious.
Pretentious is also the word for some of her writing: "My ears drank the sounds of the ranch." She also leans heavily on the bathroom habits--or lack thereof--of the females in the family to explain their suppression in an age when such suppression was the norm. Surely there was more to it than that. Someday Hotchkis may tell all--with the bathroom door shut.
At 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fridays & Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; ends Nov. 24. $10; (213) 453-1755.