When I heard the first Irish accent in The Playboy of the Western World, I almost groaned, because I haven't always had good experiences with tricky accents in local productions. I'm happy to report my fears were unfounded. The evening was full of fine accents and clever comedy.
John Millington Synge's play literally caused riots when it premiered in Ireland in 1907, because Irish nationalists took umbrage with its portrayal of their countrymen and its flippant view of patricide. Fast forward a hundred years to the Strollers Theatre production, which opened at the Bartell Theatre Thursday night, and the show is still cheeky, with some genuine belly laughs.
The action unfolds in a remote public house on Ireland's western coast, where Christy Mahon (the appealing Michael Andersen, whose performance gets stronger as it progresses), a young man on the lam after allegedly murdering his father, staggers in. The pub's owner, Michael Flaherty, solidly played by Joseph Lutz, is impressed with Mahon's tale, as are the other locals. Flaherty's daughter Pegeen (a feisty Liz Angle, who can always be counted on for good acting) is the barmaid. She is fascinated by the stranger. It's agreed that he'll have sanctuary in the public house, where he can work as "pot boy."
Meanwhile, Pegeen's cowardly fiancée Shawn (David Meldman) has alerted the Widow Quin (Sarah Hoover) to the arrival of this mysterious stranger in hopes that's she'll whisk him away. The two ladies squabble over who will be in charge of the alluringly dangerous Mahon, and soon news of his tantalizing presence has spread to a gaggle of young village girls, causing more swooning and tittering.
I won't reveal all the twists and turns, or the final outcome, but there are some priceless lines along the way, and given our nation's infatuation with the infamous, the play provides canny and amusing insights.
The cast should be commended for keeping those accents steady throughout. While a few lines are muffled here and there, you can certainly enjoy Synge's rich and compelling language. Angle and Andersen share some funny and tender scenes, and I found myself rooting for them as a couple. There is an obvious sense of camaraderie amongst the cast.
Director Greg Harris does double duty as set designer and serves the play well in both roles. The authentic-looking set makes wise use of the Bartell Theatre's narrow Evjue stage. Sonia Ramirez produced thoughtful costumes: bulky knit shawls, tweeds, banged up boots.