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Theater | Theater Review

Down-to-Earth and Evocative 'Playboy of the Western World'

September 26, 2002|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Furious Theatre Company, an up-and-coming group that has recently staged two well-regarded U.S. premieres, tests its creative mettle on a classic in "The Playboy of the Western World" at the Armory Northwest in Pasadena.

It's hard to believe that John Millington Synge's fiercely poetic comedy occasioned riots when first produced by the Abbey Theatre in 1907. The play, about a wandering Irish lad whose proclaimed act of patricide makes him a popular hero in a rural County Mayo community, outraged Dubliners of the day, who found Synge's earthy, feckless peasant characters unacceptably coarse, a violation of the sentimental folk archetypes they held dear.

Under the direction of Damaso Rodriguez, this "Playboy" traverses the familiar terrain of Synge's masterpiece with earthiness and lyricism intact. This is a rock-solid, even occasionally inspired staging, marred only by slow-starting performances in a couple of critical roles.

The play's provenance and period are perfectly re-created--no mean feat for an American company not accustomed to the quicksilver cadences of the Irish tongue. The appealing cast's impeccable accents lend authenticity to the proceedings, as does the beautifully realized set by Shawn Lee and Melissa Teoh, two talented designers whose work bears watching. Teoh also did the impressive period costumes, Vonessa Martin the superlative sound, and Christie Wright the effective lighting. Hair and makeup stylist Christa McCarthy makes the actors look convincingly scruffy, as if they had dug a few potatoes and trotted through a few bogs before convening in this modest rural pub.

That pub, owned by the boozy Michael James (Robert Harlan Greene) and presided over by his young and feisty daughter, Pegeen Mike (Sara Hennessy), is the unlikely setting for mystery, romance, high drama and low comedy--all part and parcel of Synge's bittersweet romp. When Christy Mahon (Brad Price), a befuddled wayfarer, staggers into the pub with the story of how he murdered his abusive father with a shovel, the locals embrace him as their favorite son, marveling at his daring.

Prickly Pegeen Mike falls for Christy in short order, openly vying for his affections against the likes of the Widow Quin (effectively sultry Laura Russell), a scheming mantrap who wants Christy for her own. The tone of the play is pitch perfect--almost. Effective in the play's wrenching conclusion, Hennessy and Price are a bit anemic in their early scenes, seldom conveying the full-bodied longing under their characters' artless inexperience. Matthew Henerson is an unalloyed delight as Christy's boozy father, a raucous, filthy crowd-pleaser who takes the action to manic new heights whenever he's on stage.

*

"The Playboy of the Western World," Armory Northwest, 965 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. Fridays-Sundays, 8:30 p.m. Ends Oct. 13. $15. (818) 679-8854. Running time: 2 hours.

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