THE SHADOW OF A GUNMAN, Ulysses Theatre Company, at Stage Left Theatre. In 90 minutes Sean O’Casey sums up Ireland, past and present–especially its bloody penchant for mock heroics and martyrs. Just as “murderer” Christy Mahon is venerated in Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, so does O’Casey expose Donal Davoren, a poor Dublin poet who’s mistaken by his neighbors for an IRA gunman.

It’s 1920, and the Irish rebellion is about to become a civil war. Black and Tan thugs raid homes and shoot on sight. Davoren has a fateful encounter with Minnie Powell, a naive girl whose ferocious belief in a free Ireland is no abstraction. (As Yeats described such zealots, “A terrible beauty is born.”) But when an IRA soldier leaves bombs in a knapsack in the room Davoren shares with a blarney-spouting peddler, Seumas, he and his roommate panic. If the Brits find the weapons, they’re dead.

Enthralling and on target, Kirsten Kelly’s staging culls a hard-edged eloquence from O’Casey’s tragically topical 1923 play, alternately lyrical, taut, and corrosive. Thomas Jones plays Davoren with an impassioned world-weariness that finally explodes in guilt. Jason Walton makes a vibrant Seumas, a survivor as divided as Ireland itself. Charming and vulnerable, Laurie Riffie’s Minnie stands for every ardent soul caught in the cross fire. Every aspect of this first-rate revival by the Ulysses Theatre Company has the stamp of authenticity, especially the clashing accents, designer Susan Kaip’s beat-up flat, and Charlie Jolls’s furtive lighting.

–Lawrence Bommer