Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge

By Joe Straw

“I just riz the loy and let fall the edge of it on the ridge of his skull...”

Christopher Mahon (Michael A. Newcomer) killed a man. Not just a man but a close member of his family, his father Old Mahon (Geoff Elliott).

Quietly perpetrated in a potato field with the midmorning fog acting as a shield.  And silently committed near County Mayo, Ireland. The crime was a senseless and cowardly act.  The blade of the loy finding it’s mark, in the center of the skull, striking his father dead almost immediately.

And plowing away from the death scene, Christopher left his father, left him there for the stray dogs, in the middle of a blood soaked field, never asking himself the question: Why?

The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge and directed by the indefatigable Geoff Elliott now playing in repertory at A Noise Within Theatre (ANW) in Glendale California is a fascinating comedic look at a play that caused theatre-goers to riot in 1907. 

One can only imagine being there, at that time, and being caught up in the riotous spectacle. 

But as the story goes, a man is dead, not much they can do about that. Go to the wake, bury him, and move on. But the insatiable appetite of the remaining characters yearns for the truth and it is, in this play, their raison d’etre.   Each of them, with their own macabre sense of justice wants to find out why Christopher Mahon killed his father. 

In a local pub Pegeen Mike (Lindsay Gould), Shawn Keogh (Brian Hostenske) speaks of getting married. Shawn is a bit of a wimp and not much of a man that a woman with a strong constitution would want to marry.

Pegeen’s father Michael James Flaherty (Apollo Dukakis) and his two friends Philly Cullen (William Dennis Hunt) and Jimmy Farrell come in for a moment in route to a wake. It is an activity they participate in regularly because there are libations and food for the night.

Christopher Mahon struggles into the bar, a shadow of his former self, filled with guilt and remorse and suddenly this unkempt stranger intrigues all.  When they find out that he has committed a crime they want all the frightening details. Finding himself in a position of power Christopher offers the minutiae of his crime at another time.  For now he is offered a place to stay and a job at the bar.

And now having a real man in the bar, Pegeen throws Shawn out and the playboy of the western world spends the night.

Not much happens in a small town without everyone knowing everything and such is the case as Sara Tansey (Rebecca Mason-Wygal) Honor Blake (Alicia Bruckman) and Susan Brady (Caitlyn Tella) who bring gifts to honor him. The Widow Quin (Jill Hill), a murderer herself, is intrigued with Christopher and wants the story and wants him as well.   And together they pry the narrative from his blood soaked memories.  

Only, there’s a problem, Christopher’s father is alive and he comes to make the sniveling Christopher pay for his crime. Christopher hides behind the door and his secret is out. And so is his manliness to all of those whom have come to know him. Therefore, he must make good on his pledge. 

Newcomer and Gould as Christopher and Pegeen respectively create an interesting relationship on stage.  Whether it is a love relationship is open to discussion. A lively discussion at that! Pegeen stuffs straw into a sack of her future husband with little regard of love in mind.  Christopher eats her food without taking delight in her or her way. There is a scene of them together where little takes place and the relationship is not further developed.

Hill as the Widow Quinn wants Christopher but takes very few physical steps to make that a reality.

Hunt as Philly is absolutely fantastic. His entrance in the second act is an aspiration to those working in that craft. 

Dukakis as Michael is a workhorse on the ANW stage, successful from one production to the next and delightful to watch.

Hostenske as Shawn was quite good. Its tough love being unloved but nevertheless a fine job.

Venable as Jimmy was also fine but not really sure what he wanted.

Mason-Wygal, Bruckman and Tella were very good in their roles but don’t know if they ever saw anything in the hearty leftovers  (Shawn).

Maxwell Schneller, as the peasant, was unassuming as all peasants should be. 

Geoff Elliot does yeoman work as the director and as a performer, Old Mahon. His voice is his strong asset and his physicality very demonstrative.  Geoff Elliot’s strength lies in his tenacity.  He has this uncanny and amazing ability to create incredible and lively crowds scenes. 

The Playboy of the Western World is full of life and joy and despite a few minor problems this production will only pick up steam during the course of its run.

Superb Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford and wonderful Costume Design by Soojin Lee. Dialect Coach by Nike Doukas in this Ireland setting was wonderful.

The grit on all of the characters seemed all too real. Can someone please take a moment to clean something on their being?

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