Playboy of Western World
At the Loeb Drama Center, through March 17
George Hamlin's maiden voyage as a director at the Loeb is a roaring success. The play is a happy choice, the superb cast is rigorously trained--even to the near-uniformity of its brogue--and a monumental, yet graceful set is perfect in all its details, down to the last dusty bottle and patched quilt.
The greatest tribute The Playboy has received was the riot it occasioned at its Dublin opening in 1907. The Irish nationalists who felt so keenly that the play represented an insult to the honor of their country that they had to shout down the actors were justified. The immorality of Synge's peasants (they admire a murderer and use words like "shift") was only the ostensible cause of the outrage; what fired the wrath of the groundlings was the fact that Synges' peasants are neither squalid nor maudlin, are not, in other words, the stock stage peasants. (Lorca is the only playwright besides Synge who can write peasant comedies without cliche and condescension.) It is a measure of that first audience's total sympathy with Synge's characters, that when the characters are shown to be fools, the audience was not amused but insulted.
In The Playboy of the Western World, Synge turns parricide into a theme for comedy, which, unlike most modern comedy, is neither sadistic nor despairing, Christy Mahon becomes the hero of the peasants when he wanders into their town telling of his heroic murder of his father. The sudden appearance of Old Mahon shows Christy up as a mere poet, a liar. And when he actually does perform the crime before their eyes, he becomes a criminal. "There's a great gap," says Pegeen Mike, the girl with whom he has fallen in love, "between a gallous story and a dirty deed." Her rejection of Christy jolts him to an awakening: the idle dreamer becomes a poet of reality, and in the process, a man. When Old Mahon survives his second murder, he leaves for home with Christy. "My son and myself will be going our own way, and we'll have great times from this out telling stories of the villainy of Mayo, and the fools is here."
Lucy Stone is a wild and fine Pegeen. The fire and assurance of her performance spark the entire production. Her delivery of Synge's lyrical and muscular prose is as intense and lovely as one could wish; she moves with a peasant's sturdiness and a dancer's grace.
Christopher Mahon is played by Tom Griffin. It is a difficult role, for Christy's character does not so much develop as burst from revelation to revelation. Ingenuous cowardice erupts into lyric bragging, which suddenly becomes an adolescent protestation of love. Christy's final and most important change from bondage to freedom, from boyhood to manhood, is as unexpected as the rest. Griffin plays the part with extraordinary exuberance and intelligence; he achieves the clarity necessary if the play is to make sense. Occasionally, as in the love scene and in the final scene of the play, his exuberance becomes the rare power that makes for really electric moments on the stage.
In the minor comic roles, Yann Weynouth, Terrence Currier, Beryl Kinross-Wright, and Kenneth. Tigar are all delightful. In a production as well paced as this one an indulgence in a little excessive mugging (of which Tiger is guilty) and overstated flippancy. (Bery! Kinross-Wright's only excess) are easily forgivable, at moments even very funny.
Many of the past productions at the Loeb have suffered from inadequate direction. Not only have directors failed in their obligation to interpret their plays, but they have been unable to block exits from the huge Loeb stage without having their actors crash into each other. Conversely, credit for the success of The Playboy must go largely to its director, George Hamlin. The performance was clean and economical; no movement is made on the stage without purpose. Ramzi Mostafa's set had the same virtues: handsomeness grace, and economy.
Synge wrote a "Curse, to a sister of an enemy of the Author's who disapproved of The Playboy."
Lord, confound this surly sister,
Blight her brow with blotch and blister,
Cram her larynx, lung, and liver.
In her guts a galling give her.
Let her live to earn her dinners
In Mountjoy with seedy sinners:
Lord, this judgment quickly bring.
And I'm your Servant, J. M. Synge.
[The brief stopping of Thom Gunn by the University has not passed unnoticed. A review of the poet's most recent work will appear in a forthcoming issue of the CRIMSON.--Ed. Note]