July 22, 2008

Talented Cast Energize ‘The Playboy of the Western World’

By Alice T. Carter, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 22--Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre launched its ambitious Synge Cycle on Saturday with the opening of "Playboy of the Western World."

During the next four weeks, the company will offer all seven of Irish playwright John Millington Synge's plays when it adds three programs of pairs of his shorter plays. Among those works is Synge's "When the Moon Has Set," which Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre believes might be that play's first professional production.

The plays are being performed in a rotating repertory that uses a staggered performance schedule.

The opening production, "Playboy of the Western World," is Synge's best-known work as well as an irreverent comedy.

Set in the early 20th century in the remote Aran Islands of Western Ireland, it shows that the public's fascination with the notorious and scandalous is nothing new.

When an attractive, but otherwise average guy turns up at the local pub and confesses that he's a fugitive who killed his father, he becomes the center of attention for the entire community, most particularly its women.

As details of the crime emerge and young Christy Mahon expands on the details, he finds himself fielding offers and adoration from the pub owner's daughter, a widow and a trio of the area's silliest, giddiest girls.

For the play's setting, scenic designer Gianni Downs has created a spare, rough sepia-toned pub whose walls are seemingly stained brown from years of tobacco use.

Director Andrew S. Paul has assembled a thoroughly professional cast whose talent extends to the smallest of roles.

In addition to Jerzy Gwiazdowski's Christy Mahon and Mari Howells' fierce and forceful Pegeen Flaherty, whose attraction to each other drives much of the action, there's a solid list of performers backing them up.

Among them are Martin Giles as Pegeen's eloquently ramshackle father Michael Flaherty, Derdriu Ring as the canny Widow Quin, Jason McCune as Pegeen's pious and timorous fiance Shawn Keogh and Philip Winters as Old Mahon.

Director Paul sets a rapid pace and physicality to keep the energy and comic potential in play.

Dialect coach Natalie Baker Shirer has gone overboard to ensure that each and every character is deeply possessed of a West Country accent. The result is impenetrable accents that often are as thick as a pint of stout and likely to leave you somewhat befuddled.

That's unfortunate, as Synge's dialogue goes to great lengths to reproduce the poetic and lyrical speech and imagery of the Irish.

Let's hope that the actors' repetition of and familiarity with their accents may soften them into something more easily understood by those encountering Synge's text for the first time.


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