Theater Review: ‘The Plough and the Stars’

The pains wrought by war 
May 30, 2019 Updated: May 30, 2019

NEW YORK—The Irish Rep continues its important task of presenting the entire Sean O’Casey Dublin Trilogy, as it’s come to be known, with the third in the trilogy: “The Plough and the Stars.”

All three plays are set during various bloody conflicts with England at the beginning of the 20th century. And each play—”The Shadow of a Gunman,” “Juno and the Paycock,” and now “The Plough and the Stars”—stands alone as a theatrical achievement, with a mix of tragedy and comedy.

“The Plough” is particularly brutal, as it brings the war—taking place during the Easter Rising of 1916—more potently into the tenement home of its major protagonists: Jack Clitheroe (Adam Petherbridge) and his wife, Nora (Clare O’Malley).

Nora’s Uncle Peter (Robert Langdon Lloyd) resides with them, and there is a steady stream of visitors, including the working man Fluther Good (Michael Mellamphy), the socialist Covey (James Russell), and the violently British sympathizer Bessie Burgess (Maryann Plunkett), whose daughter Mollser (Meg Hennessy) is dying of consumption.

There’s a good deal of hilarity and joking about in the first scene, but things become more leaden as the action moves into a public house where people gather to hear pro-independence speakers. The prostitute Rosie (Sarah Street) is also present, trading insults with some of the townsmen.

The stress of wartime brings out the worst in people. Bessie and the charwoman Mrs. Gogan (Una Clancy) have a fight, as do Covey and Fluther. Jack has had to go to war, as he’s a commandant in the Irish army, and his wife has come close to a breakdown fearing for his safety. She is comforted by the surprisingly warmhearted Bessie. But an unexpected tragic incident takes place, as the war comes too close to home.

Director Charlotte Moore has done a wonderful job eliciting the extensive variety of emotional tones required by O’Casey’s text. In fact, Moore directed this play for the Rep’s debut back in 1988.

With such a smooth, consistent company of actors, it’s difficult and even unfair to pick favorites. But I find Maryann Plunkett, Clare O’Malley, Adam Petherbridge and Michael Mellamphy to be outstanding. Others in the exceptional cast include Terry Donnelly, Rory Duffy, John Keating, Ed Malone, and Harry Smith.

Charlie Corcoran’s fine set is particularly complex, requiring a revolving platform, and is complemented by Michael Gottlieb’s lighting. Costumes by Linda Fisher and David Toser are most appropriate.

A theatrical gem.

‘The Plough and the Stars’
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd St.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
Tickets: 212-727-2737
Closes: June 22

Diana Barth writes for several theater publications, including “New Millennium.” For information visit