In director Allan Miller's emotionally deft production of Sean O'Casey's powerful Irish drama, "The whole world's in a state of total chassis." And whatever you make of such a statement, this staging of O'Casey's play artfully mixes blarney and despair in almost equal measure. Set in a squalid Dublin tenement, circa 1920, O'Casey's play focuses on one of the great tragic figures of the theater: amiable, gloating, lying loafer "Captain" Jack Boyle (John Apicella), as lovable as he is overweening. Instead of finding a useful job to please his frustrated wife, Juno (Kitty Swink), Captain Jack boozes it up with his wastrel best pal, "Joxer" Daly (Armin Shimerman). Jack is delighted when he learns he has inherited a small fortune but outside their tenement, alarming dangers lurk that destroy his daughter Mary (Jeanne Syquia) and son Johnny (Josh Zuckerman). Miller's staging of this most character-driven of plays commendably showcases personality, and the acting work is both vivid and convincing. In Apicella's blustery turn as "the Paycock," Boyle's not just a lazy, genial sod, he's "King Baby," a strutting alpha male, whose sense of entitlement is noticeably at odds with the squalor of his reality. An equal pleasure is Swink's tightly wound, brittle Juno: In this tough, melancholy performance, the long-suffering, hard-bitten wife clearly knows that she has turned into a hag as a result of picking up after her hubby's irresponsible fecklessness. Jack's true mate, of course, is his reprehensible boon companion Joxer Daly, played with irresistible rattiness by Shimerman, whose oily bonhomie is matched only by the character's spite when Boyle's back is turned. The shabby furniture of Chuck Erven's set in Act 1 turns into slightly fancier furniture in Act 2 (when the family's fortunes look to be made). There's even a working stove downstage, where Juno cooks up a delicious-smelling Irish sausage, which (no insult to the cast of this engaging and moving drama) inevitably steals the scene in which it appears. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, W.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 5. (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 17, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 15, 7 p.m.; Wed., May 18, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 25, 8 p.m. Starts: April 16. Continues through June 5, 2011