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Raven Theatre Review: The Playboy of the Western World

Review: The Playboy of the Western World

The writer J.M. Synge was a master of Irish poetry, prose and folklore.  Debuting over 100 years ago in Dublin’s famous Abbey Theatre, Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World” took the city by storm. Literally.  Synge’s romantic and dark comedy caused rioting in the theatre and in the streets during its opening run in 1907.  Shortly before his death at age 37 in 1909, Synge wrote a preface to the Play for the publication of his “Collected Works.”  In the preface he said, “In a good play every speech should be as fully flavored as a nut or an apple.”  “The Playboy of the Western World” is without a doubt a masterpiece of speech; speech that is full of flavor that is cheeky, sassy and bold while at the same time poetic and humorous.  The cast of the Raven Theater delivers a production that captures the full, fiery flavor of Ireland’s native dialects and zest.

The Play is set in Michael James Flaherty’s Public House in a small town on the rocky and harsh west coast of Ireland in the county of Mayo during the early 1900’s.  It begins when Christopher (Christy) Mahon, a “fine young fellow with a noble brow” played by Sam Hubbard, finds his way into the Pub after having traveled eleven days. Hungry and worn from the road he meets the inn keeper Michael James, played by Matt Bartholomew, his daughter and bar maid Margaret Flaherty affectionately called Pegeen Mike played by Jen Short and her fiancé Shawn Keogh played by Graham Emmons.

Soon after his arrival Christy begins to expertly and vividly tell the tale of having killed his father. Rather than being appalled and shocked by the confession of patricide, Christy is admired and encouraged to stay at the Pub as a pot boy to assist Pegeen.  Before the next morning passes to noon the news of his treacherous act has spread and has made Christy respected by the men and the object of desire for a number of the town’s young women, including the Widow Quin played by Sarah Hayes.

The cast does and excellent job of bringing to life the poetry and prose of Synge.  Sam Hubbard makes the murderous Christy a likable scoundrel and Jen Short and Sarah Hayes deliver excellent performances by bringing lively tension and intrigue to the stage.   As a venue the Raven is large enough to hold the energy of this performance, but small enough to make you feel as if you’re sitting in the Pub as observer of the events unfolding before you.  The set is well done and realistic and the costumes appropriately transport the audience to the poor village.  The poetry of language with the use of unfamiliar words and phrases and heavy Irish accents required active listening, but the words were given life by the talented cast.

Directed by Michael Menendian, “The Playboy of the Western World” at the Raven is a great way to spend an evening and will expose you to a brilliant play with an exceptional cast that is delightful, amusing and entertaining.

“The Playboy of the Western World” continues at the Raven Theatre until April 5, 2014.

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