The Playboy of the Western World
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
October 11, 2009
It's fitting that new artistic director J.R. Sullivan is at the helm of The Playboy of the Western World, the first production in the Pearl Theatre Company's new home, Manhattan Theater Club's Stage II. A new A.D. and space (they're no longer using their longtime home, Theatre 80) hints that they're trying to reinvent themselves in their 26th year. One thing remains the same: high quality productions of classic plays, acted well by one of the few remaining acting companies in New York City.
J.M. Synge's Playboy, set in a pub in County Mayo, Ireland at the dawn of the 20th century, is one of the few plays that showcase murder as a means of getting people to like you (and it obviously heavily influenced writers like Martin McDonagh). Our hero, Christy Mahon arrives at this pub with a wild story to tell its inhabitants: he murdered his father while they were potato farming, buried the body and fled. Naturally, Pegeen Mike, the to-be-married barmaid falls in love with him, as does the Widow Quinn. And the town girls are crazy for him. And the men are impressed. But, in the true fashion of comedy, Old Mahon arrives, not dead after all.
This production showcases a real find in Lee Stark, in her New York debut. Her nuanced Pegeen Mike is desperately sad and quiet, a visible contrast to the others on stage, loudmouths every one of them. The always fun-to-watch Bradford Cover and Joe Kady are riots as Pegeen's father Michael James and Old Mahon, respectively. I wouldn't buy Sean McNall as a murderer, but that works in his favor as our title Playboy.
Sullivan's staging really comes to life with Old Mahon's arrival in the second act (the play has three acts with two intermissions). It starts off slow, gradually picking up speed until a breathless final act, which showcases a nifty little fight scene (choreographed by Rod Kinter). The problems in pacing will invariably disappear as the run continues, though two intermissions don't help.
I would suggest that, in the next production, they focus stage blocking more generously to the three-quarter round set up of Stage II. Proscenium staging in a space such as this isn't always the best, especially if the far end of the house right seating is obscured by part of the set (otherwise stunningly realized by Harry Feiner). Dudley Knight and Philip Thompson should be commended for their expert voice, speech, and dialect direction. Costumes (Rachel Laritz) and lighting (Stephen Petrilli) are serviceable. The ends of each act, with single spotlights on certain characters as the remaining lights dimmed, are lovely.
The Pearl is always good for introducing us to work we (potentially) have never seen before. The rest of their season contains Shaw's Misalliance, an adaptation of Dickens's Hard Times and The Subject was Roses by Frank D. Gilroy. I hope they prosper for years to come.