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Date: Fri 16-Oct-1998



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Date: Fri 16-Oct-1998

Publication: Bee

Author: DONNAG

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(rev "The Playboy of the Western World" @Long Wharf)

Theatre Review: Hughes Works Another Masterpiece At Long Wharf

(with cut)

By Julie Stern

NEW HAVEN -- "On the stage one must have reality and one must have joy," wrote

the playwright John Millington Synge in the preface to his tragi-comic

romantic musical drama, The Playboy of the Western World .

That these twin goals may lie in opposite directions is an underlying truth in

his portrayal of two tumultuous days in the life of a lonely village on the

west coast of Ireland. Long Wharf Theatre is presenting the Irish masterpiece

on its New Haven State through November 1.

The play, which moves with the inexorable irony of a folk ballad, chronicles

the impact of a young fugitive on the lives of the townspeople. Young Christy

Mahon, battered and filthy after 11 days on the road, stumbles into Michael

Flaherty's pub on a stormy night just when Flaherty and his cronies are

setting off for a night of heavy drinking at a local wake.

Begging for temporary shelter, Mahon reveals he has killed his abusive father,

and is running from the law. To his surprise, rather than shock them, his tale

wins respect from the small group that hears it.

He is given food and drink, and offered a job as tavern "pot boy," on the

understanding that he live on the premises and act as protector to Flaherty's

motherless daughter, Pegeen.

By the next morning, washed and rested, Christy begins to emerge as a proper

romantic hero, showing a gift for poetry as he recounts the loneliness of his

hard life and his joy in the beauty of nature. He also falls heavily in love

with Pegeen, and dreams of the warmth and comfort of a life with her.

Soon his story spreads through the town and he is besieged by curious

visitors. A sophisticated older woman, the Widow Quin, makes a play for his

affections, and passion is ignited in the heart of the spirited Pegeen, as she

readily dumps her longtime suitor.

Pressed by everyone to enter the local Sports Day competition, where he

triumphs in every test of strength and skill, the "Playboy" is about to claim

his due rewards when who should turn up but his father. His head is bloody and

bandaged, but the bullying old brute is anything but dead, and he is

determined to take revenge on his rebellious child.

The events that follow are as troubling as they are unexpected. As they

portray the fickle impetuosity of mob behavior, they elevate the play to a new

level of seriousness and sadness as it deals with the sources of courage and

its limitations in people who would rather be bitter and lonely than risk the

honesty of love.

With the bony handsomeness of a young Sean Penn, Jim True expands the

dimensions of Christy's character. Martha Plimpton's Pegeen has the flashing

temper and will that must be tamed before she can love, and Pamela Nyberg is

both wise and devious as the Widow Quin.

With a haunting background of traditional Irish music played by a quartet

looming above the stage, and an absolutely mesmerizing riot of a fight scene

staged by choreographer Robin MacFarquhar, The Playboy is riveting and

consistently entertaining.

Long Wharf Director Doug Hughes has brought this play from Chicago, where he

directed it for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company as part of his policy of

working jointly with top repertory groups across the country. As with the

other Irish play with which Hughes opened last year's season ( She Stoops to

Conquer ), he shows once again how much he has energized the Long Wharf, and

how exciting a year subscribers can expect.

Comments are open. Be civil.

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