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Setting the stage Director defines his responsibilities to the cast of 'Juno'

Belfast-born director Derek Campbell is receiving praise for his handling of the conflicting emotions in "Juno and the Paycock," now being presented by Irish Classical Theatre Company.

One of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey's earliest efforts, the play is also one of his most well-known and highly regarded. The timeless work, set in Dublin against a backdrop of civil war, tells the story of the Boyle family. There is father Jack, lazy and disappointing both as a man and as a father; mother Juno, an archetypal "good woman" who tries to hold her fractured family together; daughter Mary, a somewhat vain though ultimately good girl; and son Johnny, who fought for his beliefs, and is now physically disabled, bitter and disillusioned. On the surface, there is humor and comedy, but the play is at heart, as Buffalo News critic Richard Huntington said in his four-star review, "a full-blown tragedy."

Campbell took some time to speak about some of the joys and challenges of his job.

>How is it to direct on the ICTC stage, which is in the round?

One advantage is the form's dynamism and intimacy. The audience becomes quickly engaged. However, any periods of stasis, or lack of motion, means that a section of the audience is getting a back view. So there must be almost constant movement, which must be functional, discreet and appear organic to the material. In a way, you are training the audience's eyes and ears; they must be attuned to the point of focus and be alert to see where the drama is going to shift. It is a tricky and fascinating jigsaw puzzle.

>O'Casey's play is so rich and complex. How do you work with actors individually and as an ensemble to keep each story and character arc separate yet meshed?

I call it "directorial specificity." I need to see and be clear about what the point of entry is to the play. Once I have that, I can help the actors find their key to both the play as a whole and their character's arc.

For this text, the predominant action verb is "to deceive." The whole spectrum of deception, from overt to unconscious, is practiced throughout. All of Acts I and II are anchored in inevitable lies and secrets. And in Act III, it all comes crashing down in a cruel and ruthless way. So, if I am very specific about the play's journey and issues, then the actors can organize their own creative contribution to connect and create arcs.

>Do you think that O'Casey's messages apply today?

Yes, absolutely: nationalism and religious fervor, two of the main themes of the play, are what global politics are about today. One of the hallmarks of great art is its ability to speak to us through generations. A great play keeps revealing itself in layers. In "Juno," O'Casey is in a sense putting the three powerful universal myths -- nationalism, religion and political/social -- on trial. And he finds them all coming up empty. The idea that it is noble and valiant to shed blood for your country is mocked; the church is essentially accused of abandoning this family in their time of grief and trial, and intoxicating social ideals are trumped by middle-class values.

This play continues to haunt the consciousness of any audience, no matter where they are coming from.

"Juno and the Paycock," presented by Irish Classical Theatre Company, continues through April 2 in Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St. For tickets and information, call 853-4282 or visit www.irishclassicaltheatre.com.

Going to see this or any other local theater production? Give us your take in 250 words or less, and send it to bconnolly@buffnews.com or Gusto Comments, Newsroom, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240. Include your name and phone number. All submissions are subject to editing.

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