By J.M. Synge
Directed by Michael Menendian
At Raven Theatre, Chicago
“… it’s great luck and company I’ve won me in the end of time — two fine women fighting for the likes of me — till I’m thinking this night wasn’t I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone by.” — Christy
“Drink a health to the wonders of the western world, the pirates, preachers, poteen-makers, with the jobbing jockies; parching peelers, and the juries fill their stomachs selling judgments of the English law.” — Sara Tansey
“It’s well you know what call I have. It’s well you know it’s a lonesome thing to be passing small towns with the lights shining sideways when the night is down, or going in strange places with a dog noising before you and a dog noising behind, or drawn to the cities where you’d hear a voice kissing and talking deep love in every shadow of the ditch, and you passing on with an empty, hungry stomach failing from your heart.” — Christy
“Oh my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World.” — Pegeen Mike
World class production of one of the greatest Irish plays in good hands with Raven Theatre’s talents
J.M. Synge’s explosive comedy, The Playboy of The Western World is a riveting look into the masterwork from the founding playwright of modern Irish theatre. So realistic and sensuous, especially for 1907 when it was first performed, Playboy caused riots in Ireland and provoked protests in 1911-12 in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago as the Irish took offense at the satirical and demeaning presentation of rural folks. It reminded them of why they left the countryside for Dublin or why they immigrated to America.
Synge’s use of the lyrical and colorful provisional language of rural Ireland shocked theatre patrons with its vivid realism depicting the ignorance, the dirty-faced, the sexual repressed hard drinking country folk. The play tells the story of a stranger who entices the inhabitants of a small coastal Mayo village with his tale of killing his father. In director Michael Menendian’s terrific fast paced production several elements standout: the Irish brogues (dialect coaching by Jason K. Martin) were authentic yet understandable; the set (design by Andrei Onegin) gave a rural Irish public house a realistic feel. The stage combat scenes and the smart acting were superb. You’d be hard pressed to fine a finer non-Equity cast than Menendian’s expert crew.
Even as Christy Mahon (Sam Hubbard) stumbles into the shebeen (rural tavern) dirty, wearing torn ragged clothing, Pegeen Mike (Jen Short), her father, Michael James (Matt Bartholomew) and the two drunken patrons are curious about the stranger. Is he a tinker or a lost traveler? When Christy tells his story of how his abusive father lead him to slug pa with a spade to his apparent death, rather than turning him in, the villagers admire his bravado and make him a local celebrity. Pegeen give him a job as a pot-boy (a helper in a pub) as she flirts with the nerdy young killer.
Pegeen sends her fiancé in waiting, Shawn Keogh (Graham Emmons) away so she can seduce the weary stranger. The town’s three maidens come to meet (and tempt) Christy but it is the Widow Quin (Sarah Hayes), locally renowned for killing her husband who offers Christy her home and her attention. Christy is basking in the glory of having two women haggling over him with others waiting in the hills. After Shawn Keogh tries to bribe Christy with his new suit and hat, his ‘single blow’ story gets richer with each telling. At his height of popularity, Pegeen agrees to wed him, his thick-headed father, Old Mahon (Lawrence Garner) shows up for revenge. With Widow Quin’s help, the old man is sent astray as Christy wins the local race on the beach.
But the old man returns to expose Christy in front of everyone. The village turns on him as he whacks his father in the head a second time with a spade. But the crowd only sees Christy as an honest murderer doing a ‘dirty deed’ rather than ‘a gallous story’ so they bind him with rope to deliver him to the peelers (police). He is saved when his indestructible father crawls back into the shebeen alive.
Christy’s ego perks up as he admonishes Pegeen and the ‘fools of earth’ who turned on him and becomes the dominant strong one over his father in a role reversal. The play ends with Pegeen lamenting: “Oh, my grief. I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World.”
Playboy is a look into the lower class rural Irish life filled with repressed sexuality, boredom and narrow-mindedness. One of the major indictments Synge makes of the rural Irish is their love for violence and their need for alcohol. The stage combat is thrilling and quite funny..
I was particularly impressed with several performances: Sam Hubbard’s Christy was charismatic and slick while Jen short’s Pegeen Mike was the strong Irish woman and Graham Emmons’ Shawn Keogh was the funny coward afraid of everyone. But Lawrence Garner’s scary yet hilarious Old Mahon topped them all!
The Playboy of The Western World is terrific classical Irish theatre from an important playwright marvelously filled with loads of heart and skill. This Raven theatre production is one of the best plays produced in Chicago this season..Every actor in town needs to see this marvelous show to learn who to project and articulate while sporting an authentic accent; how to land comedy and to bravely perform stage combat. I believe doing Irish plays takes many of the same skill sets as does doing Shakespeare. These players sure channeled the rural folks from County Mayo in 1900. Take the trip back with Raven’s players…it is a rare theatrical treat.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 10, 2104
For more info checkout The Playboy of the Western World page at theatreinchicago.com
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $36, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through April 5, 2104