Irish Playwright's Daughter Keeps His Memory Alive
SHIVAUN O'CASEY grew up in the shadow of greatness as the daughter of one of Ireland's most famous playwrights, Sean O'Casey. Critic John Gassner says of him in "The Collected Plays of Sean O'Casey,O'Casey's plays constitute the most exciting dramatic writing in the English language we have had since Shaw completed 'Saint Joan,' if not indeed since the disappearance of the Elizabethan stage."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Now Ms. O'Casey is devoting her life to the burnishing of her father's fame, keeping his name bright in the flickering light of a TV society that knows more about "The Bold and the Beautiful" than "The Plough and the Stars" or "Juno and the Paycock," his greatest plays.
As a director, Shivaun O'Casey has taken her O'Casey Theater Company on the road with his 1923 play, "The Shadow of a Gunman." An intense drama about the Anglo-Irish war in Ireland (1919-21), it seems as contemporary as the Irish terrorist bombings in London recently. Seventy years later, the war that Mr. O'Casey wrote his first produced play about marches on in another form. "Gunman," the company's first production on its first tour, played several cities - Boston, Pittsburgh, New York, and Philadelphia
- before finishing up in Washington last month.
The O'Casey Theater Company paradoxically has its headquarters in the Northern Ireland town of Newry, on the troubled border with the Republic of Ireland. The troupe includes members from both Northern Ireland, the republic, and the US. It will return to the US in l993 for a second tour, after playing in Ireland, England, and part of Europe in 1992.
Before she went back to Ireland for fresh money (this production cost $230,000), O'Casey talked about the production in a quiet room outside the violet-walled Terrace Theater where "Gunman" was playing. A gifted director with a keen insight into her father's play, she has put together a gripping, sometimes black-comedy production that stuns the audience with its tragic ending. A young woman falls in love with a poet, who out of pure romanticism is masquerading as a gunman. The poet wonders "What danger c an there be in being in the shadow of a gunman?" But the innocent woman is killed for protecting him.
As Shivaun O'Casey volleys in a line from the play: "That's the Irish people all over - they treat a joke as a serious thing and a serious thing as a joke."
O'Casey is a former actress (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) with a direct blue gaze and a voice as soft as shamrocks. She toured America with the Dublin Players and worked as a scenic designer at the Bristol Old Vic. She later formed a company and produced "The Beggar's Opera," as well as an O'Casey play, one by Samuel Beckett, and "The Shadow of O'Casey," a production she directed and wrote.
The day of the interview she is dressed like a shadow herself, in a black turtleneck and black pants, with a long silver necklace designed by her artist brother Breon. She, Breon, and their mother, Eileen, are involved in putting together a documentary on Sean O'Casey. It will include family interviews and footage of him shot back in l964 by American filmmakers, the Maysles brothers.
Although David Maysles has since died, Al Maysles is still involved with the O'Casey family in filming this documentary, which they plan to bring to Irish television and perhaps to the US.
O'Casey points out that her father's message was one of peace, that he never took the romantic approach to the early Irish Republican Army, the Irish Civil War, and the Anglo-Irish war in his plays.