In the charming comedy The Playboy of the Western World, set in a pub on the northwest coast of Ireland in the early 1900s, the residents of County Mayo find themselves swept up by the gripping story and charm of Christy Mahon, a wayward wanderer who stumbles into the town pub in the wee hours of the night. Retelling a dangerous tale of patricide, Mahon claims to have killed his father with a single strike to the head. In the quiet coastal town where weekly routines are rarely disturbed, the village folk quickly glorify the dark stranger: Men admire and fear his courage, women orbit around him. But, when Mahon’s father arrives at the scene, the celebrity stature that Mahon enjoys comes to a tragic end.
The Playboy of the Western World is presented by the Autumn Players, Asheville Community Theatre’s senior theatre group that works in partnership with the UNCA’s Center for Creative Retirement. In addition to staged performances, the troupe is also committed to community outreach, bringing their dramatic readings to local schools and nursing homes throughout the region.
J.M. Synge’s play, both acclaimed and highly controversial, is known for causing riots in the streets of Dublin after its début performance at the Abbey Theatre in 1907. The play was a shock to its first audiences and critics deemed its themes “vile and inhumane.” Today, Synge’s play is recognizes as a masterwork, rich with metaphor and engaging dialogue. It should also be noted that “playboy,” at the time when this play was written, meant something significantly different than is does today, and in this context is used to describe a trickster or light-hearted jokester.
For the Autumn Players, where actors dramatically read scripts out loud in a Readers Theatre showcase (with no memorization, sets or costumes), Synge’s three-part comedy is an excellent pick. The dialogue itself is engaging, full of old Irish manners and personality. For example, “You’ve turned me a likely gaffer in the end of all, the way I’ll go romancing through a romping lifetime, from this hour to the dawning of the Judgment Day.”
(A helpful glossary is printed on the back of each program).
In a Reader’s Theatre showcase, a successful production hinges on powerful delivery and animated narration. Luckily, the Autumn Players specialize in the art of reading. With the thoughtful guidance of directors Hal and Valerie Hogstrom (who both play minor roles in the production), each actor seems to channel the voice of an Irish native, delivering their lines with convincing sing-song Irish accents (allow a few minutes for your ears to adjust to the dialect). The scripts themselves, however, held in black binders, do hinder the actors ability to connect with the audience through eye contact, like a veil over a dancers face.
Dashing young Mahon, the lead character, is performed by Harry J. Gandy, Jr., who propels the play forward with his confident, steady voice. Though his reading is lively, his eyes were cast low, glued the pages of his script, detracting from the power of his narrative.
In the play, the eye of Mahon’s poetic affections fall to Pegeen Mike, a bar maid, performed by passionate Gina Pauratore. It is Pauratore’s soaring and clear voice that opens the play, where she argues with her cowardly fiancé Shawn Keogh, who is performed by the spirited Roger Hill. Hill gives an amazingly expressive performance, his countance lifted, his face pinched with fervor.
The part of Pegeen’s rival, the wonderfully seductive and wicked Widow Quin, is performed by Theo Sable. Sable embodies her character with vigor, manipulating everyone around her with natural charm and a captivating lure.
The simplicity of this production, which seems to focus intensely on capturing the language of the time, whirls its audience into a foreign world on the coast of Ireland over a century ago. It is not to be missed by theatre goers of all ages.
The Playboy of the Western World will be performed at 35below at Asheville Community Theatre today and Saturday, August 1, at 2:30 p.m. On Sunday, August 2, the play will be staged at the Reuter Center on the UNCA campus at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $5. Info: 254-1320 or www.ashevilletheatre.org.
Directed by Hal Hogstrom and Valerie Hogstrom. Featuring: Gina Pauratore (Pegeen Mike), Roger Hill (Shawn Keogh), Jim Slautich (Michael James), Russell Johnson, or alternatively, Hal Hogstrom (Philly Cullen), Greg Kemp (Jimmy Farrell), Harry J. Gandy, Jr. (Christy Mahon), Theo Sable (The Widow Quin), Marsha Wilchfort (Susan Brady), Bea Diamond (Honor Blake), Patricia Harvey (Sara Tansey), Allan Albert (Allan Albert) and Valerie Hogstrom (Narrator).