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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the August 7, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
`Playboy of the Western World’
At the time of the first production of "The Playboy
of the Western World" in 1907 some felt that playwright John Millington Synge was making fun of his countrymen, who preferred to believe in a dream rather than in reality. As Maxim Gorky wrote, "The comical side passes quite naturally into the terrible, while the terrible becomes comical just as easily." That the play has retained its lofty place among the masterpieces of modern dramatic literature is given confirmation in an excellent new production, onstage at the Irish Rep Theater.
It may appear, during its deceptively delightful performance, to be
hardly more than a provincial folk tale embroidered with some wry
observations and raucous behavior about the making of heroes and reputations.
And it may take you a while, as it always does me, for the play’s
poetic mix of the fantastical, the ferocious, and the funny to fuse.
But be assured that you will ponder the play’s premise of how and
why an entire town becomes intrigued and enamored of a stranger in
their midst, who admits killing his father and fleeing, long after
the play is over.
Buoyed by strong performances and solid, uncompromising direction
by Charlotte Moore, this Irish Rep production shimmers with the language
of a playwright who knew how to expose the longings of the human heart
as well as to slyly poke fun at the narrow minded and easily provoked.
As Christy, the tall, virile, and handsome Dara Coleman is believable
at once as the parricide, provocateur, and poseur who infatuates the
women and infuriates the men in a remote Irish village.
A public house on the wild coast of Mayo (admirably evoked by designer
David Raphel), is the play’s sole setting. Here Pegeen Mike (in a
tart and tempting performance by Derdriu Ring), the feisty daughter
of the publican (Christopher Joseph James), loses no time in disdainfully
discarding her lily-livered suitor Sean Keogh (John Keating) for the
young man with the strong arms and fiery speech. The widow Quin (played
with hilariously nervy verve by Aedin Moloney) challenges her and
is willing to pull out all the stops to win Christy’s carnal interest.
The irony of the play is how quickly this initially humble and frightened
lad re-makes himself into a boastful extrovert enabling him to go
out and win an athletic prize. His transformation into "The Playboy"
is blunted, however by the sudden appearance of Christy’s still-living
father Mahon (James Gale) who, with his bloody head bandaged (after
all, who ever heard of an Irishman being killed by just one blow to
his head?), has tracked down his son and now intends to drag him home.
The deception creates havoc and mayhem in the community, but most
of all it destroys Pegeen’s belief in Christy ("There’s a great
gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed"). This may result
in the un-making of a hero but also the making of a man.
The play’s denouement, in which the passive Christy and his fierce
father face off twice in violence only to gain new respect for each
other, is thrillingly staged. As there is unlikely to be the kind
of rioting that took place during the play’s premier week at the Abbey
in 1907, go ahead and enjoy this most essential of literate donnybrooks.
— Simon Saltzman
West 22 Street, New York, 212-727-2737. Performances to September
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