BWW Review: PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD Checks All the Boxes at Brigit St Brigit Theatre
I had no idea what to expect going into the current Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre Company production, THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD. All I knew is that I would be challenged yet again by a piece of fine writing enacted by an incredibly capable group of actors. Such is the hallmark of Cathy Kurz and her theatre company.
J. M. Synge's THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD dates back to 1907. The setting is a pub near a village in County May, Ireland. Pegeen Mike Flaherty (Anna Jordan) is working in her father's pub when a disheveled young man enters. He tells her that he is on the run because he has killed his father with one blow to his head. Oddly, Pegeen falls for this young man called Christy Mahon (Josh Ryan), and more oddly still, the entire village follows suit, including the Widow Quin (Hannah Clark) who tries her best to seduce him. Pegeen Mike's suitor, Sean Keough (Matt Cummins), loses her to Christy...not that he ever really had a chance, being a timid man with no intriguing rough edges to attract a woman. When Christy's dead father (David Landis), who is not as dead as Christy thought, finds his way to the pub, chaos ensues and people show a new side of themselves.
At the high point of the story there is a fight which is brilliantly choreographed by Terry Doughman. Every minute of it is tension filled and feels as real as any bar brawl.
Cathy Kurz directs this cast, which I have to say is the most amazingly gifted group of actors I've seen. Josh Ryan blows up my already high expectations of "local actors." He is extraordinarily talented with a rare ability to morph through a range of emotions from a goofy, insecure young fellow to a more confident "playboy." I have never been so impressed by someone on a community theatre stage.
Anna Jordan is a guaranteed delight in any production. She is glib with her words, sure with her movements, and always in character. Her representation of Pegeen Mike is feisty and controlled. You wouldn't want to make her mad.
As the Widow Quin, Hannah Clark presents a complex person with an interest in Christy and desire to protect him from those who pursue him. The background notes suggest that Widow Quin carries a bit of a brothel madam about herself. At the same time, she exhibits a sense of fun and liveliness. She appreciates an adventure, especially when it comes to cloak and daggers. Clark deftly fulfills all of these characteristics. Diametrically opposed to her outgoing sure-fire personality, Matt Cummins hones Shawn Keough's weaknesses to a fine point. There is little surprise that Pegeen Mike is not interested in a lifetime with this fearful fellow.
David Landis as Christy's dearly departed dad is precise in his enunciation and speaks in an easily heard volume. Some of the words in this play were lost to me between the dialects and the projection, but I had no problem catching every word Landis spoke. That is a good thing since his is one of the more comical characters. He is a bright spot, enjoyable to watch.
The entire cast is commendable. Daisy Friedman (Sara Tansey) and Emma Johnson (Susan Brady) capture the giddiness of young girls who are inexplicably infatuated with the mysterious newcomer. Eric Salonis (Philly Cullen) and Eric Grant-Leanna (Jimmy Farrell) embody the boisterous friends who frequent the pub along with the pub owner, Michael James Flaherty. Eric Griffith plays Flaherty with the stern hand of a father, who also is a sucker for his daughter. It is clear that Pegeen will have her way.
Providing color and context, Charleen J. B. Willoughby has designed some really nice costumes for both the grungy Christy and his father, and the people of the county. Pegeen Mike's dress is particularly impressive with its practical deep pockets and skirt that moves freely. George Dippold (Set Designer) and Bill Van Deest (Lighting Designer) have collaborated to create a pub with a rural feel, complete with a fireplace and details such as beer bottles, china plates and wooden furniture. Subdued lights fall on the characters with soft illumination.
Every time I see a BSB production I feel I have homework to do. This is entertainment meets education. It conjoins colloquial Irish terms with the beauty of poetic speech. According to J. M. Synge, every good speech should be "as fully flavoured as a nut or apple," and such speeches can't be written by those who don't embrace poetry. This is comedy not taken lightly. There is interesting history attached to it. When it was performed in its infancy, the public rioted because of opposition to perceived negative images of Ireland inherent in the play and the notion that patricide was being condoned. THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD is a lesson in cultural norms and how they have changed over time.
THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD checks all the boxes: Education. Entertainment. Excellence.