Theater review: 'The Playboy of the Western World' at A Noise Within
It's hard to imagine the outrage and controversy that greeted the 1907 premiere of J.M. Synge's "The Playboy of the Western World" – a sharply observed, unromanticized comic portrait of Ireland's rural peasants that once broke new theatrical ground but now seems positively tame compared to the bad behavior on display in the works of more contemporary Irish playwrights.
In Synge's simpler, tabloid-free world, a bedraggled stranger's exaggerated tale of having killed his father with an angry blow to the head is enough to fire the admiration and sympathy of the townsfolk into whose midst he stumbles while fleeing from his apparent crime.
But there are lucky charms aplenty in Geoff Elliott's magically delicious "Playboy" revival at Glendale's A Noise Within. Without guile (and even fewer brains), the handsome but penniless lunkhead fugitive Christie Mahon (Michael A. Newcomer) becomes the star who sets the hearts of local lasses aflutter. All the attention has him rolling in four-leaf clover, but fortune proves as inconstant as the phases of the moon.Evoking a gritty, visceral sense of time and place, the company of classical repertory thespians elegantly applies the most refined nuances of its craft to get down and dirty (literally, with help from Stephen Gifford's thatched-roof tavern set and Soojin Lee's threadbare costumes). No higher compliment can be paid to the authenticity of their Irish brogues than the fact that they are often unintelligible – an artifact of dialect that the program notes encourage us to ignore and instead let the sense of the play "wash over" us.
Good advice, as it turns out – the cast does a marvelous job of illuminating the characters and their intents through expression, inflection and sheer physicality, sweeping us up in their world of bickering, wheedling and wooing. Particularly effective is the sexy, touching flirtation between Newcomer's endearingly simple Christie and sharp-tongued barmaid Pegeen (a delightfully feisty Lindsay Gould). Also rendered with admirable clarity are Pegeen's cowardly jealous suitor (Brian Hostenke) and her rival for Christie's affections, the scheming Widow Quin (Jill Hill). Director Elliott, appearing as Christie's loathsome and apparently indestructible dad, makes an impressively credible case for patricide.
– Philip Brandes
"The Playboy of the Western World," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Runs in repertory, check for schedule. Ends May 22. $40 and $44. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1, or www.anoisewithin.org. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Photo: Lindsay Gould and Michael Newcomer. Photo credit: Craig Schwartz.