By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
Synge, who based his 1907 piece on his frequent sojourns to Ireland's west country, depicts the residents of County Mayo as a hardscrabble bunch whose lilting speech belies their crude behavior. Shortly after we're introduced to the local watering hole's denizens, one character offhandedly relates that a notorious yokel was recently sentenced to a six-month prison term "for maiming ewes" -- a charmingly worded report that barely elicits so much as a muffled grunt from the assembled gentry. A few minutes later, though, a stranger named Christy Mahon tells a tale that exceeds the general horror threshold. Naturally, he has little trouble drawing a crowd. What's more, upon hearing Christy's claim that he used a potato spade to bash out his father's brains -- a specious account that seems as full of holes as his da's supposedly empty head -- the menfolk leap to action in ways that evidently aren't reserved in County Mayo for the wanton butchery of farm animals.
Having secured an appreciative audience -- and, more important, a place to sleep for the night -- Christy manufactures ever more elaborate versions of his yarn for anyone who will listen, including a couple of gullible spinsters. Eventually, he sets his sights on winning the affections of the comely barkeep, Pegeen Flaherty, who yearns to be rescued from her drudgery by the sort of rogue suggested by the play's title. Just when Christy seems poised to buckle the knees of his bride-to-be, however, his wounded father shows up on the pub's doorstep, bandaged head and all. And for the rest of the two-hour comedy, the braggart Christy wages a four-pronged battle with his da's version of events, the townsfolk's fanatical hero worship, Pegeen's wavering loyalty, and his own, perhaps divinely inspired, delusions of grandeur.
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Apart from an overall tendency to gallop through scenes that require lighter, more lyrical touches, most of the actors render decent portrayals. A couple cross over into caricature, but the majority reflect the homespun poetry and sense of wild abandon that Synge obviously found alluring. Although his Christy is more frenzied than intoxicated by his newfound status as King of the Bog, Dan O'Neill proves credible during his scenes with Trina Magness's lusty Pegeen; because he's vocally quieted and physically corralled by the close-quarters circumstances of their tête-à-têtes, O'Neill finally manages to summon Christy's poetic desire to fulfill his pie-in-the-sky dreams. (And he's also deprived of any opportunity to thrust one or both arms heavenward in a too-frequently-used gesture that suggests Christy has a private pipeline to the Almighty.) For her part, Magness locates most of the serving wench's down-and-dirty humanity, as well as her palpable fear that the blowhard in her midst is perhaps the closest real-life equivalent to the man of her dreams. Kelley Wade Zobel and Tara M.E. Thompson are endearing as a pair of hopeful busybodies, and Kevin Stephens is convincing as a barfly who alternately lurches and pontificates.
Even though director McGovern doesn't attempt to draw obvious parallels between Synge's view of life and McDonagh's modern-day reinterpretations, his entertaining production does convey a fairly radical notion: Maybe the Irish aren't any better at telling stories than we are; maybe their plays aren't more romantic, more imbued with spirit-rousing poetry. But no matter how unwilling Ireland's present craftsmen are to bear a torch for the ways of the past, the bonfires of tradition burn bright in their works. And that's a sight more than can be said for Broadway's display of puppet extravaganzas and celebrity lounge acts.AMaybe the Irish arenít any better at telling stories than we are.