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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
The Playboy of the Western World

By David Lohrey
If there's that terror of them, it'd be best, maybe, I went on wandering like Esau or Cain and Abel on the sides of Neifin or the Erris plain.
We are as an audience not likely to riot at the hearing of Mr. Synge's revealing dialogue; time has worn away the shock value of his exposure of the grubby details of Irish peasantry. But a great deal - and all that is important - remains. The language may not disturb our blunted hearts, but his exposure of human discord rouses our spirits. Synge's lively insights into the petty and grand sides of the human condition awaken our unexercised hearts. Synge writes a beautiful, vibrant English, a rare treat in the modern theatre.

Sometimes the set itself provides a sufficient clue to the production one is about to see. Scenic designer (David Raphel) has seen to it that this cottage set by Synge in County Mayo establishes at once the picturesque squalor that both entranced and repelled the author. A magnificent stonewall stands gloriously in contrast to the fleeting gestures of our human tragedy. This, combined with the bare furniture and plain décor of the small bar of Michael James Flaherty (Christopher Joseph James) and his daughter Pageen (Derdriu Ring), sets the grubby mood. We know here that things will change but stay the same.

Although the play is rarely produced these days the story of Christy (Dara Coleman), the fugitive killer, is well known to theatergoers. The story, however, continues to be rewritten. Most recently, its outline was adapted by the creators of film Witness. Pegeen Mike (Derdriu Ring), the daughter of the local publican (Christopher Joseph James), is sure to marry her shy suitor Sean Keogh (John Keating), although he is no match for her in more ways than one. She is as brilliant and beautiful as he is tongue-tied and ordinary. Suddenly, the appearance of the Christy sets her heart in motion, along with the hearts of the village girls, especially when he gains celebrity status for having murdered his abusive father.

Derdriu Ring (Pegeen Mike) is an extraordinary player, born to play this rough-and-tumble role which, when played to the hilt, is enough to scare the bejesus out of any man. Brassy and sassy, Ms Ring delivers more than most could muster. The role of Pegeen is the prototype for much of contemporary Irish theatre. Conor MacPherson would be lost without her. It takes a quite a gal to wield a broom stick with her sense of authority. She reminds one of such American fire-brands as Josie in O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten and Maxine in Williams' Night of the Iguana. It is a great role, fully and faithfully played by Ms. Ring.

The arrival of the Widow Quin (Aedin Moloney) on scene threatens what would appear an inevitable match. But the Widow knows a good thing when she sees it, and she wants a piece of young Christy. Here we have that classic of psychology, the oppressor who is a knot of repressed passions waiting to unravel. Ms Moloney plays her full out, a terrifying, emotionally costly and, therefore, courageous performance. The dynamic created between the Widow and Pegeen is at once absurd and tragic, hilarious and sad; Ms Ring and Ms Moloney must hold the reins of this dramatic chariot tightly or the whole thing would fall apart. It is a tribute to their acting and to the director (Charlotte Moore) that the right balance is maintained.

Few can match the feisty Pageen and the Widow Quin, either in the author's writing or in the performances of these talented actresses. Nonetheless, all try. John Keating plays Pageen's suitor with a marvelous eccentric flair. His lack of sexual energy plays well opposite the very attractive Dara Coleman (Christy), who quickly establishes his credentials as the cock of the walk. He is the right physical type - good-looking enough to upset the henhouse.

The two fathers are very effective. Pegeen's, played by Christopher Joseph James, and Christy's, played by James Gale, add comic and tragic tones to a play that often needs weighing down. Were it not for the heaviness of these two gentlemen, the young people would be in danger of allowing their passions to end civilization as they and we have come to know it. Both actors possess stage presence; both are talented character actors with strong stage voices.

The rather large cast by contemporary standards plays well in the awkward space. For the first time at the Irish Rep, I had the sense that the audience members in the side auditorium were getting their fair share of the cast's attention. Ms Moore has directed with rare confidence. Her pacing is immaculate; the performances almost without exception bring out every ounce of Synge's rare and lasting passion. The play may no longer incite riots, but it most certainly causes the audience to cheer.

Written by J. M. Synge.
Director: Charlotte Moore.

Cast: Derdriu Ring, John Keating, Christopher Joseph James, John Leighton, Dvid Costelloe, Dara Coleman, Aedin Moloney, Laura James Flynn, Tracy Coogan, Clodagh Bowyer, James Gale.
Scenic Design: David Raphel.
Lighting Design: Kirk Bookman.
Costume Design: David Toser.
Running Time: 2 Hours with one 15-minute intermission
The Irish Rep Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St., NYC, (212) 727-2737.
Opens 7/02/2002 thru 8/18/02. Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm; Sat & Sun matinees at 3pm.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 7/6/02.

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