Long for Another Life? Raven Theatre’s Got a Season for YouContinue reading.
Raven Theatre stages rip-roaring revival of “The Playboy of the Western World”
‘THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD’
When: Through April 5
Where: Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark
Info: (773) 338-2177; www.raventheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours with one intermission
What happens when a stranger stumbles into a small, isolated, inbred town full of thwarted, suffocating souls?
In THIS country, we had Tennessee Williams to explore the often tragic consequences. In Ireland, there was J.M. Synge and his drama, “The Playboy of the Western World,” whose fabled 1907 debut at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre resulted in a riot.
Raven Theatre, the spacious, welcoming Edgewater “storefront” that continually mounts some of the more engaging revivals of American classics around, clearly has a bit of the Irish in its soul, too. Its production of “Playboy” is masterful on every level — a rip-roaring rendering of a play that can shift moods in the blink of an eye as it moves from comedy to farce to tragedy, with plenty of physical action driving it forward as well. And director Michael Menendian and his superb cast not only embrace the play’s great and crazy emotional swings. But they keep the story moving like the wind while sharply probing such essential themes as fathers and sons, men and women, narcissism and self-doubt, religion and passion, violence and nurturing.
Synge’s story unfolds in about 1900 in a County Mayo town where the men do most of the hard drinking and the women do enough scheming to enable them to survive. The Catholic church rules the lives of some, but not all. Andrei Onegin’s magnificent set, with its irregular stone walls and wood beams, instantly takes us to the time and place.
Enter Christy Mahon (Sam Hubbard, thin as a toothpick and wild as a young stallion, is terrific). Cold and starving, and on the run for an initially unspecified crime, he somehow pierces the heart of Pegeen Mike (an ideally fierce Jen Short), a hard-edged young woman who runs her dad’s pub while he goes on binges with his pals (deftly played by Dareen Hill and Dean La Prairie). Pegeen also is desperately trying to avoid marriage to the priggish, church-obsessed scholar, Shawn Keogh (spot-on Graham Emmons), a young man afraid of his own shadow.
Word of Christy’s arrival, as well as the fact that he recently battered his oppressive dad to death, spreads quickly, and the women of the town arrive to check out the improbable outlaw “hero.” The young man, until now stuck on a potato farm, takes easily to celebrity, and displays all the makings of a natural storyteller and potential narcissist, but one with a heart.
Widow Quinn (the absolutely superb Sarah Hayes), is the first to arrive and immediately sets her sights on Christy, hoping to give him what she failed to give her husband. Then comes a gaggle of local girls (played with zest by Leah Frires, Lindsay Tornquist and Martha Reddick). And finally there is an unexpected visitor: Old Mahon (a wonderfully vivid, ornery Lawrence Garner). His skull may be bloody, and he is still a bit dazed. But he most definitely is not dead. And all those who had celebrated Christy, now feel they’ve been betrayed by him. Not surprisingly there is hell to pay, with a thrillingly ferocious fight scene choreographed by David Woolley that makes you truly fear for Hubbard’s safety.
Christy gets his comeuppance. But it is Pegeen, whose streak of cruelty is stunning to behold, who will suffer most. A breathtaking final wail makes that perfectly clear.