Trodding The Boards:
A Definitive Playboy
by George Patterson
Having produced and played the leading role of Christy Mahon in The Playboy Of The Western World only four years ago at the CAC, producer/actor Michael Cahill, obviously deeply enamored of this 1907 Irish classic by playwright John Millington Synge, has struck once again, this time enlisting the invaluable collaboration of co-producer/director Perry Martin and the more accomodating facilities of the Southern Repertory Theatre.
The two have presented a definitive local production of this satirical play.
But no matter how richly detailed or cast or acted or invested with naturalistic scenery, lit with subtlety, costumed with mud-spattered historical accuracy, besotted with Irish music and folk dancing, The Playboy Of The Western World remains a difficult evening in a New Orleans theatre. So much water has spilled over the dam since it caused theatre riots on its opening night (the Puritanical locals reacted to a line about unclothed ladies! Instead of reacting to the fact that Synge was making malicious fun of their ability to idolize criminals!) That Synge wrote down the Irish vernacular in a manner that gave it a heightened lyrical beauty may indeed have been a cause for critical exultation at the turn of this century, but 91 years later, it is so dated, so fustian in its language as to be almost impenetrable. Add to this unfamiliar language its unique brogue, executed for the most part excellently by the present cast, an you've got a major case of boredom on your hands, or concentration fatigue.
A young Irishman, Christy Mahon (Mr. Cahill who now thoroughly owns this role), thinks he's killed his mean father by hitting him over the head with a spade (called a "loy") and so seeks refuge in a pub, or public house, or "shebeen," which is owned by Michael James Flaherty (Randy Cheramie) and run by his good-looking daughter, Pegeen Mike (Kimberly Patterson - radiating Irish charm) whose engagement to the doughy Shawn Keogh (Robert M. Montgomery), has been arranged by her father. Since this supposed act of patricide occured in another village, the women of this village go gaga over Christy - his crime has made him the local matinee idol. So he becomes a veritable playboy of the western world to the sex-starved women of this village, from Pegeen to the Widow Quin.
But his ferocious and battered Da, Old Mahon (Doug Mundy - a perfectly cast curmudgeon of the first order) eventually turns up. Suddenly Christy's notoriety vanishes, his light goes out and the women suddenly shun him. He's left to battle it out with the Old Man - in a donnybrook staged with harrowing reality by Robert M. Montgomery - those Fighting Irish!! Youth overcomes old age and the two, with Da now thoroughly submissive, go back home and leave the locals with yet another tale they can embroider upon while daily dallying in their cups.
All of the performers in this richly cast company are top rate and merit mention. Besides the incomparable Janet Shea, here playing the buxom, bawdy Widow Quin and, of course, the above-mentioned principals, Michael P. Sullivan (the town crier, looking like a refugee from Finian's Rainbow), Bob Scully, Ralph Lister, Kara Hadigan, Amy Alvarez, Robin A. Werner, and Marnie Thompson create an entire world of Irish blarney which has been minutely detailed & lit by scenic/lighting designer Stephen G. Thurber. Anne Bendernagel supplied the mud-spattered, tweedy clothing.
For students of theatre, for Irish immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, for Irish lovers (the Irish Cultural Society), this is the production they've been waiting for. Thank director Perry Martin for plumbing its rich metaphorical depths.