Playboy of the Western World
THE ARGONAUT – WHAT’S ON – March 14, 1996
STRONG PRODUCTION OF PLAYBOY IS A HARD LOOK AT IRELAND
BY LIZ FINCH
This St. Patrick’s Day, the Pacific Resident Theater Ensemble (PRTE) is serving up a regional delight decidedly more culturally appealing than an afternoon spent slugging back green beer — The Playboy of the Western World, by J.M. Synge. This darkly humorous play looks at the appeal of imagination to the simple denizens of Mayo, a small Irish hamlet on the Aran Islands. The fact that the playwright spent several years on the Islands learning the remote dialect means that at times, Playboy’s language is hard to decipher. But a few moments of training the ear to untangle the heavy brogue (a glossary in the playbook is handy) are all that are needed, and Playboy’s excellent performances soon soar above any lingering language problems. Playboy revolves around a stranger named Christy Mahon (Gregory Vignolte) who shows at a murder. At first, the folks at the pub — owner Michael James (Orson Bean), his daughter Pegeen (Reamy Hall), her hopeful fiance and cousin Shawn Keogh (Stuart W. Howard) and Michael’s drinking partners Philly Cullen (Seth Margolies) and Jimmy Farrell (Dennis Madden) — are skeptical of Christy’s tale of some terrible sin that caused him to run off into the night. But when he reveals that he’s struck his father dead, the group’s interest is piqued to ay the least.
To herald a man guily of patricide might seem a bit odd, but “bravery” is a treasure in a lonesome place”, and the entrace of one so brace as Christy is seen almost as a blessing.
Mere moments after spinning his sorry tale, Christy is a veritable hero in Mayo —Michael James entrusts him to keep his daughter safe while he’s off drinking at a wake, and the lad’s description by local gossip-mongers even draws the Widow Quin (Alley Mills) down to the public house to see what’s what.
The handsome newcomer tums out to be especially popular among the ladies, who shower Christy with gifts and squealing attention, propelling him to become a sports hero in the town. The Widow in particular sees Christy as a cure for her loneliness, but he’s got eyes only for the aloof Pegeen. But when a man sporting a bloody wound in his skull shows up in search of his wayward son, Christy definitely begins to experience a kink in his plans.
The original presentation of Playboy in 1907 caused riots because of its depiction of the Irish. Whether the play cut too close to home or catered specifically to stereotypes is not clear, but today the piece certainly conforms to what many have come (perhaps falsely) to believe of the Irish —that they spend their hours drinking, fighting or loving, and that harsh work and a harsher history have made them a hard people.
Those hardened citizens long for the “Western world” promised by this glamorous stranger, even if that calls for a suspension of disbelief about his story. “A daring man is the jewel of the world,” they say, and for a time Christy is indeed that jewel.
Pegeen, who loves Christy for his poetry as much as his prowess, believes herself indeed blessed to have won such a prize, and she joins the ranks dedicated to Christy. But when the truth at last comes out, the townsfolk are equally dedicated to saving their own souls.
Fear of God wins out over their longing for passion, freedom and bravery, and Pegen bears the brunt of it, aware of the ruin within at succumbing to that fear. Playboy is an elegant production, marked by superb performances and an exhaustive attention to detail that extends even to a preperformance serenade by an Irish fiddler.
Whether or not you choose to forgo the drinking this St. Patricks Day to see it, Playby is a necessary addition to your Irish celebrations.
The Playboy of the Western World continues at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. $undays through mid-April at 705bd Venice Blvd. in Venice. Admission is $18, $15 for children and seniors, Information and reservations, (13) 660-8587..