The Playboy of the Western World is a riot!
by Michael Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant contributor
In 1907, when it was first performed, “The Playboy of the Western World” evoked a riot. Sinn Fein leader Arthur Griffith said, “A vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform!” Luckily, when Kim Martin directs this version of John Millington Synge’s classic play it only induced a riot…of laughter.
Ashton Guthrie, Jenny Lester, Kyle Coughlin, and Nick McDonough. Photo by Jeff Swensen.
A young strapping lad, Christy Mahon (Nik Duggan) swaggers into town with a ghastly tale. He claims to have murdered his own father. Do the locals hoist him from his own petard? No. They embrace him as a hero. Clearly, County Mayo, in Ireland’s lonesome west, is full of oddballs. Michael James Flaherty (Drew Palajsa) calls him, “A daring fellow is the jewel of the world,” and puts the alleged murderer in his daughter’s charge.
Margaret “Pegeen Mike” Flaherty (Amanda Lee Hawkins) is enamored of the mysterious stranger. Unfortunately, every woman in the County from the borders of Sligo to Galway takes a shine to the Christy.
Pegeen’s biggest rival for Christy’s affections is the Widow Quinn (Jenny Lester), who has agreed to snatch Christy out of Pegeen’s arms, as a favor for the mousy and meek Shawn Keogh (Corwin Stoddard), who has his own plans of matrimony for Pegeen.
Christy learns of the women vying for his affection and says, “It’s great luck and company I’ve won me in the end of time — two fine women fighting for the likes of me — till I’m thinking this night – wasn’t I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone by.”
Laughter ensues. Actually, things get riotous on stage, especially when the alleged corpse Old Mahon (Ashton Guthrie) comes to town with a giant bump on his noggin. Apparently the reports of his death his death were greatly exaggerated.
It took superb acting skills and a deftly directed cast to pull off the humor from the nearly two-hundred year old play. Martin makes it work. Duggan is charismatic in the role of Christy. Aye, Hawkins is a comely lass; with excellent acting chops. Lester simultaneously villainous and affable, it’s a rare feat.
The dialogue is spoken in an Irish brogue as thick as Mulligan Stew, but the cast pulls it off effortlessly. Mind, it was a bit too much for some audience members, who fled before intermission. Philistines! The language might be difficult, but it’s worth it. We haven’t abandoned Shakespeare because he was challenging, why should we not afford an Irishman the same courtesy we afford an Englishman?
It’s an amazing cast in a spectacular production. One quibble; “The Playboy of the Western World,” has a truncated run thanks to the Easter holiday.
The play is funny, then dark, then funny again. If there were any more complaints about the show, it would be the ending, but this is a spoiler free zone! When the run is over, come back and discuss in the comments section below.
In the words of Sara Tansey (Sophia Grosso), “Drink a health to the wonders of the western world, the pirates, preachers, poteen-makers, with the jobbing jockies; parching peelers, and the juries fill their stomachs selling judgments of the English law.”
Raise your glass! Then, get yourself down to the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Conservatory Theatre’s Rauh Theatre, 222 Craft Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information go to: www.Pittsburghplayhouse.com