Theater review: USF Department of Theater's The Shaughraun

unite them the at the end.


The play opens as Claire Ffolliott (Stephanie Smoak) is pumping the tail of a huge cow as Captain Molineux (Nick Horan) rides in, Monty Python-style, on his invisible horse. He falls instantly in love with the young Irish lass, but she, it seems, is not quite so enamored of him. Claire’s brother is a political prisoner who has been taken off to Australia, and Claire sees the Captain as someone who might possibly help her brother. In the mean time, a roguish vagabond named Conn (Alex Perez) helps his friend, Robert Ffolliott (Robert Richards) to escape, and as a result becomes embroiled in personal, social and political struggles, and oh, a little romance on the side.


My compliments to director Malachi Bogdanov, award-winning theater and film director, who has worked for the prestigious English Shakespeare Company and  BBC TV. The action of the play is in comic melodrama style, with exaggerated words and gestures. There is a physicality to the show to the point that it appears as though most of the dialogue has been actually choreographed, especially for Captain Molineux, Harvey Duff and Conn. Bogdanov has coached the actors well in this demanding style. It is very difficult, but the cast pulls it off. Vocal coach, Corin Mellinger worked with the cast, and all had good vocal projection and enunciation.


Nick Horan steals the show as the foppish and well-meaning British officer, Captain Molineux who is starry-eyed over Claire, and some of his physical humor is laugh-out-loud funny. He plays this “fish-out-of-water” character perfectly and in a way that makes us like him immensely. Alex Perez as Conn does a great job with the over-the-top choreographed gestures that are required in the show. He has the spirit of this larger-than-life character, and is especially good during the funeral scene in which he is supposed to be dead. Harvey Duff’s (Vince Stalba’s) initial scene is an amazing bit of physical comedy. Courtney Pruden plays a spunky Moya Dolan, Conn’s boyfriend. Stephanie Smoak is charming and likeable as Claire. All players did a fine job with the melodramatic style.


The Shaughraun is played in a very non-standard way. The set is abstract and most of the soundtrack modern. For example, “Midnight Toker" plays when Conn enters, which is very fitting for his personality. Toward the end of the show, a chorus of girls enters and does a Riverdance number to the actual song that Riverdance uses. And they do a nice job, too. Also, the cast passes through the audience to the stage more than once.


The star of this show is really the central set piece, a huge hollow cow that is used as a cottage, a clothesline, a prison, a mountaintop, a casket and a buccaneer ship. Father Dolan (Nathan Juliano) makes his entrance by rising out of the fog-spewing cow, to great effect. Scenic and Costume Designer, Bruce French, winner of the Theatre Design Trust Award, made an unusual and fittingly surreal choice in using the huge bovine prop. USF bought the hollow fiberglass cow and the scene shop crew then cut the panels, doors, and so on and inserted the smoke vents that we see in the show.


The costumes also were notable. The use of various colors of what appeared to be  frayed-edged burlap gave the flavor of the period, while setting the whimsical tone of the play. They were wery well-constructed and unified the look of the show.


This play celebrates twentieth year of the British International Theatre (BRIT) program of the University of South Florida’s School of Theater & Dance, and it’s a lively show that will be sure to get you laughing.


Feb. 18-27, 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun., College of Visual and Performing Arts Theater I, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, $8-$12, arts.usf.edu.


To read more of Sally Bosco’s writing and theater reviews see TampaBayArts.net

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from USF's production of The Shaughraun. When the lights dimmed and a fairly traditional Irish song started, I expected to see something like a thatched cottage on the stage.  When the curtain opened to reveal a huge cow, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  But that’s the way the whole play goes.  The traditional script is mixed with contemporary music and abstract devices to add to the surreal and comic effect.

The Shaughraun (pronounced shock-run) premiered in New York in 1874, where it enjoyed enormous popularity. It recounts the story of a wealthy Irishman wrongfully convicted as an Irish freedom fighter and his shaughraun (vagabond) friend’s efforts to help him. A little research told me that Boucicault was Irish theater’s first international superstar.  Quite political in his day, he used the play as a vehicle to lobby for the pardoning of Fenian prisoners. Basically a romantic comedy, the play has a Shakespearean feel to it, particularly in mistaken identities, and plot twists that keep pairs of lovers apart but eventually

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