"Playboy of the Western World" isn't terribly exciting theater. Time has taken some of its thunder away. It is, however, an interesting play, one that has not lost its relevance. Its theme, that man, given the right conditions, is the animal he always was, is as pertinent today as it was in 1907 when the play, written by J.M. Synge, was produced in Ireland.
At the time, the Irish threw things at the actors. They didn't like the fact that the Irish were being portrayed as drunken, savage peasants every bit as cruel as those in "Zorba the Greek."
"Playboy of the Western World" is being done by Ireland's Abbey Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington. This is the first time the group has toured this country in 55 years, and it is nice to see them at work. It is nice to see the play as it should be done, but all is not perfect here. There is a lot of yelling in the second act, the actors proving that they can be just as loud as American and English actors.
All this volume is unnecessary and takes from the play. The dialogue is not all that easy to catch, and screaming doesn't help.
The plot of "Playboy" is really quite simple. It's what the play says about the human character that counts. The action takes place on the "wild coast of Mayo" where a young man enters a tavern and announces that he has murdered his tyrannical father. The stranger is immediately lionized.
The boy's father, however, is not really dead. He was just stunned by that blow to the head, and when he reappears, the boy, with due provocation, "kills" the man again. The villagers, now a lynch mob, decide to hang the young man. They are led by Pegeen, tender of the tavern who had taken to the "hero."
The girl is far more cruel than the men, and in the end, when she laments that she has lost "the only playboy of the western world," you have no feeling for her. You can easily imagine that the would-be killer, now off stage, is saying to himself, "good riddance."
"Playboy of the Western World" will remain at the Kennedy through Oct. 21. The production is, by turn, dull, interesting, dull FTC and exciting. If you're a student of the theater, this is a good time to see the play. Just take along ear plugs for that second act.
Roma Downey is Pegeen, the tavern tender, and Frank McCusker is Christopher, the stranger.
Vincent Dowling directed with a very knowing hand. He might, however, bring down the volume.
of the Western World"
** J. M. Synge's classic about the Irish villagers who turn into a lynch mob
CAST: Roma Downey, Frank McCusker, Nuala Hayes
DIRECTOR: Vincent Dowling
RUNNING TIME: Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
TICKETS: (202) 467-4600