The Shadow of the Glen &The Playboy of the Western World
by John Millington Synge
directed by Garry Hynes
A DRUID Theatre Company production, presented by The Kennedy Center
reviewed by Steven McKnight
If you think the work of early 20th century Irish playwright John Millington Synge is merely broad comedies about Irish peasants, The Druid Theatre Company of Galway, Ireland will likely change your mind. Their superlative performances in The Shadow of the Glen and particularly The Playboy of the Western World capture the voice of a playwright that was both authentic and modern, and demonstrate a depth of character found only in the finest theatre.
The focus of the evening is an acclaimed production of The Playboy of the Western World, the story of a young man named Christy Mahon who stumbles into a bar in a small village and blurts out that he has killed his father. To his great surprise, he is treated as a hero as well as the object of affection from the local ladies, prompting him to opine that he was a foolish fellow not to have killed his father years ago. To audience members a century ago, this impudent plot line along with an unflattering portrait of Irish peasants was enough to cause an opening night riot. Now we can appreciate the irony and the parody that permeates the work.
Simon Boyle is outstanding in the lead role. He evolves nicely from a timid young fellow choked with guilt to a man full of boastful bravado who fancies himself in the mirror. He plays his scenes with wonderful comic energy as he accepts and enjoys the attention given him by the townsfolk. Yet beneath the surface Boyle’s Christy has at its core a lost soul desperate to find an identity that would make him worthy of the village’s accolades and the love of the beautiful barmaid Pageen Mike.
Similarly, Sarah-Jane Drummery’s performance as Pageen Mike is a revelation. She is a fierce red-headed force of nature who eagerly discards her shy scarecrow of a fiancé (Marcus Lamb) once the exciting stranger arrives on the scene. She draws laughs merely from the way she sizes up and approaches Christy like a hungry tigress. As the play progresses, however, we sense her deep longing for a different life and her moral quandary once the full awareness of Christy’s dirty deed sinks in.
It is a tribute to award-winning director Garry Hynes that she is able to play up the rich comic moments of the play while at the same time adding depth and shading to the work. There is a complexity to this production which gives it a modern feel even as it evokes the life of Irish peasants a century ago. She trusts the beauty of the language and the quality of her company with direction that is both spare and deceptively simple at times. Both works are enhanced by Francis O’Connor’s production design that effectively evokes a distressed Irish rural community, both with the pub in Playboy and the one-room home in the opening work.
The Shadow of the Glen is the first part of the twin-bill. It is a one-act that shows Synge’s similar early influences, but it is also a considerably darker work involving a widow tending to the corpse of her recently deceased and much older husband. Nora (Catherine Walsh) is hardly grieving the death of a man who “was always cold, every day since I knew him.” She is kept company both by a male friend and a tramp she invited in from the weather, who may find the situation creepy but “a man that’s dead can do no harm” (or can he?). It’s a relatively simple work with thick rural brogues that can be difficult to decipher, but it features some powerful comic and dramatic moments as the widow contemplates her future.
Serious theatre-lovers should try to find a way to see this memorable world-class production which will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of the season. Unfortunately, the show is approaching sold-out status for the remaining performances in this outstanding but far too brief run.
Running Time: 2:35 (Shadow is 30 minutes, 15 minute intermission, Playboy is 1:50)
Where: The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre
When: Through October 25th (performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.)
Tickets: $65. Call 202.467.4600 or go to the website