EDITOR’s NOTE: Due to concerns about the coronavirus, this weekend’s performances (March 13-15) have been canceled. Patrons who have prepaid for tickets will be contacted.
By Katherine Karlson
Nothing will get you into the spirit of the Emerald Isle and all things Irish ahead of St. Patrick’s Day better than a lively performance of The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge. The Summer Savoyards are presenting this masterwork of the Irish Literary Revival in the Bundy Museum Annex as a joint fund raiser for both arts entities.
Mary Donnelly directs a well-matched cast in this still popular play, which set off riots when it first debuted in Dublin in 1907, apparently because it dared utter the word for female undergarments on stage. The uproar also was due in large part to the less than rosy portrait it painted of rural Irish folk at the turn of the 19th century.
Ireland’s great gift to the world is its use of language, whether through poetry or the dramatic arts, and this play is a prime example of that gift, which the actors polish and put on display with both enthusiasm and respect. Listen carefully to the curses and verbal abuse as well as the heartfelt outpourings of love — they are all gems.
A word about the accent: The actors have obviously spent much time and effort on mastering a passable and sustained Irish accent, without which the wit and music of the scripted word would fall as flat as three-day-old Guinness. They manage to achieve this without succumbing to the dreaded “Lucky Charms School of Acting,” as a director friend once described it. However, some of the principals don’t speak as clearly or loudly as one would wish, and, in combination with the hard-won accent, their speeches are often lost to the audience. Pay close attention, and if you’re at loss as to what just happened, ask a neighbor at intermission. The three acts are short, and you can easily follow the plot.
In Playboy, Margaret Flaherty, known as “Pegeen Mike,” the daughter of a rural publican, is superbly acted by Amber Gance. Gance strikes the delicate balance between a woman who knows what she wants when she sees it — in this case, the titular “playboy” — yet who must project a tough outer shell to keep the local yokels in check. Courted by the milquetoast Shawn Keough, played with petulant jealousy by Connor Nardoci, Pegeen Mike is dismayed that this swain “has no fine words and savagery in him,” unlike the dark and handsome stranger with a mysterious secret who wanders into her father’s pub and sets all the female hearts a-flutter.
Eric Fernandez is Christopher “Christy” Mahon, who claims to have struck his abusive father a fatal blow to the head and then took to his heels to avoid justice. “Wasn’t I a fine, foolish fellow not to kill my father sooner?” he mutters when he sees how the glamour of murder makes him the ultimate babe magnet. Fernandez does a splendid job with a role that requires him to be winningly goofy and resolute in the face of disaster at the same time.
The minor characters are a delight to watch as they steal scenes behind the main action. The two father figures, Michael James Flaherty, played by Peyton Hawkes as a tipsy philosopher, and Old Mahon, acted to maniac, eye-rolling perfection by Adam Ruff, are excellent as they portray archetypes of pater familias without resorting to caricatures. The pub’s crowd of regulars are a treat as they dispense peat bog wisdom and sneak illicit sips from a stolen flask of poteen.
The minor female characters are no less entertaining. Jessica Pullis does a great job as the Widow Quin, who having “buried my children and destroyed my husband,” eyes the hapless Christy as the ideal second spouse. Her lies and machinations to gain him and a sheep are masterpieces of comic performance. The flirtatious assembly of village maidens would be fighting for selfies with a real murderer if they lived a century or so later, so smitten are they with Christy. Instead they bring him stolen treats from the larder, parade around in his boots and cheer him to victory as he competes in the donkey races.
But there is always the possibility of a sobering conclusion to a dark comedy, even when it’s set in a pub.
If last weekend was for parade watching between gulps of green beer, this coming one is for savoring the glory of Irish play writing in County Mayo. Slàinte Mhaith!
IF YOU GO: The production opened last weekend (March 6-8); the reviewer attended the Sunday matinee. Performances will continue this weekend (March 13-15) with curtain at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the annex of the Bundy Museum of History & Art, 129 Main St., Binghamton.
Tickets are $20 (students/seniors, $15); seating is limited. To purchase in advance, visit www.summersavoyards.org/tickets. Net proceeds from ticket sales will be shared by the Summer Savoyards and the Bundy.
Snacks and beverages, including beer, wine and a signature cocktail, will be available for purchase. Proceeds from the concessions and a basket raffle will benefit the Savoyards’ July 24-26 production of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Ruddigore.