Review: The Playboy of the Western World (Raven Theatre)

| February 13, 2014
Sam Hubbard and Jen Short star in Raven Theatre's "The Playboy of the Western World" by John Millington Synge, directed by Michael Menendian. (photo credit: Keith Claunch)        
      
The Playboy
   of the Western World

Written by John Millington Synge
Directed by Michael Menendian
at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
thru April 5  |  tickets: $36   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
                   Read review
     


  
  

Sterling staging lifts this Raven revival to the stars

     

Sam Hubbard, Leah Frires, Martha Reddick, Lindsay Tornquist, Sarah Hayes and Conor Clark in Raven Theatre's "The Playboy of the Western World" by John Millington Synge, directed by Michael Menendian. (photo credit: Keith Claunch)

    
Raven Theatre presents
    
The Playboy of the Western World

Review by Lawrence Bommer

107 years young, this dynamic work brought its brilliant author deserved renown and unexpected controversy. (It was a bit too true to be good.) Rhapsodically penned, J. M. Synge’s masterwork exposes the blighted inhabitants living on the windy outcrop of a seaside dump in county Mayo. (Synge lived amongst the grizzled islanders, picking up and preserving the beautiful cadences and astonishing eloquence that embellished even their most ordinary blarney.)

Larry Garner and Sarah Hayes in Raven Theatre's "The Playboy of the Western World" by John Millington Synge, directed by Michael Menendian. (photo credit: Keith Claunch)But in this backwater dead-end, cruelty is mistaken as courage and a peasant lad who brags how he killed his dad becomes a local hero. (It’s the strangest coming-of-age comedy ever.) It would be easy to be weighed down by the words rather than elevated by the lyricism. Happily, Michael Menendian’s sterling staging lifts this Raven Theatre revival to the stars that are so often invoked in Synge’s gorgeous dialogue.

Outwardly viewed, it’s a tabloid tale set in a rural waste: The Playboy of the Western World could be a dark and pitiless retelling of an ugly story: A lonely country lad who’s been mocked by the girls and bullied by his dad finally strikes back—with a hoe (or “loy”) that enters his father’s head, then flees rather than face prison for parricide. When he ends up in a lonely shabeen (or tavern) on the far edge of the “Western world” (Ireland’s Atlantic coast), Christy Mahon is perversely prized as a brave bad boy, fought over by the giggling local girls, all but seduced by the husband-hungry Widow Quin, and destined to fall deeply and poetically into first and final love with Pegeen Mike. This tough beauty is the buxom daughter of the bibulating barkeep and a hardened colleen who is unhappily engaged to the wimpy Shawn Keogh. Christy, quickly promoted to “pot boy” to protect the shanty bar, offers her a way out from domestic dreariness and the pathetic offspring that Shawn will spawn.

Synge regales this bounteous comedy with cunning wit, exploring as much as exposing their hardscrabble survival as well as the lush language that atones for the barren landscape. There’s a ton of psychology involved in the character conflicts that make this such a rollicking laugh riot—and there’s also an implied criticism of the Irish psyche, where martyrdom matters more than morality and actions are served without consequences.

Jen Short, Sam Hubbard, Lindsay Tornquist, Leah Frires and Matt Bartholomew in Raven Theatre's "The Playboy of the Western World" by John Millington Synge, directed by Michael Menendian. (photo credit: Keith Claunch)
Sarah Hayes, Sam Hubbard and Jen Short in Raven Theatre's "The Playboy of the Western World" by John Millington Synge, directed by Michael Menendian. (photo credit: Keith Claunch) Sarah Hayes and Sam Hubbard in Raven Theatre's "The Playboy of the Western World" by John Millington Synge, directed by Michael Menendian. (photo credit: Keith Claunch)

Gloriously goofy and charming as a spell as he blooms into a false hero, Sam Hubbard gives Christy the nervous energy of a vole in heat, not to mention a certain coarse credibility to the gawky “playboy” athlete. As his wrong-hearted sweetheart hardened by life in this ugly pub, Jen Short’s Pegeen beautifully blossoms into an infatuated lover as possessive as passionate. Playing the horny-minded but good-natured Widow Quin, Sarah Hayes is full of unexpected wisdom and all the wonderful wiles of an inspired opportunist.

Splendid work from these perfectly cast caricatures includes Matt Bartholomew’s perpetually soused tavern owner, Lindsay Tornquist as a teasing tomgirl, and Lawrence Garner as an indestructible patriarch straight out of a childhood nightmare.

It’s all perfectly pictured in Andrei Onegin’s richly detailed and distressed roadhouse and accurately costumed by Alaina Moore. A torrent of sound and fury, the fights by David Woolley and Menendian’s own blocking make Raven’s triumph as exciting to watch as it’s enthralling to hear.

  
Rating: ★★★★
  
   

The Playboy of the Western World continues through April 5th at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map), with performances Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $36, and are available by phone (773-338-2177) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at RavenTheatre.com(Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Leah Frires, Sam Hubbard, Martha Reddick and Lindsay Tornquist in Raven Theatre's "The Playboy of the Western World" by John Millington Synge, directed by Michael Menendian. (photo credit: Keith Claunch)

Photos by Keith Claunch


     

artists

cast

Matt Bartholomew (Michael James), Conor Clark (Peasant), Graham Emmons (Shawn Keough), Leah Frires (Susan Brady), Larry Garner (Old Mahon), Sarah Hayes (Widow Quin), Darren Hill (Jimmy Farrell), Sam Hubbard (Christy Mahon), Dean La Prairie (Philly Cullen), Martha Reddick (Honor Blake), Jen Short (Pegeen Mike), Lindsay Tornquist (Sara Tansey).

behind the scenes

Michael Menendian (director), Andrei Onegin (set design, technical direction), Alaina Moore (costume design), Mary O’Dowd (prop design, set dressing), Leif Olsen (composer), Joe Court (sound choreography), David Woolley (fight design), Cathy Darrow (stage manager), Kurt Ottinger (lighting design) Conor Clark (asst. stage manager), Kristein Abhalter, Zhanna Albertini (scenic artists), Justin Castellano (master electrician), Jason K. Martin (dialect coach),  Deborah Blumenthal (dramaturgy), Keith Claunch, Dr. Richard Hayes, Pascal Innocenti (musicians), Jac Bender, Sam Reynolds, Benj Sagarin, Sam Van Loon (electrics crew), Sam Hubbard (fight captain), Keith Claunch (photos)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Lawrence Bommer, Raven Theatre

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