“In a good play every speech should be as fully flavoured as a nut or apple,” wrote Irish playwright John Millington Synge in the preface to his 1907 comedy The Playboy of the Western World. By that standard, Playboy is a very good play—indeed, one of the greatest and most entertaining works in 20th-century English-language drama. And, happily, it is served up “fully flavoured” in City Lit Theater’s boisterous, intimate production.
The Playboy of the Western World Through 8/14: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Mon 8/1 and 8/8 7:30 PM, City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, 773-293-3682, citylit.org, $34 (seniors $29/students and military $12)
The story’s setting is a country pub on the northwest coast of Ireland—then still under British rule. Into the tavern one night wanders a road-weary young stranger—Christy Mahon, the “playboy” of the title—who fearfully confesses that he has committed a terrible crime: he killed his abusive, overbearing farmer father with a single blow of an iron spade to the head. Briefly and improbably, Christy’s tale—which grows more and more epic with every retelling—makes him a folk hero to the close-knit community of peasants who frequent the inn. The innkeeper’s strong-willed daughter, “Pegeen Mike” Flaherty, falls in love with this bold outsider and his gift of gab—until, that is, the supposedly dead father walks in, with a bandaged bloody head and a very, very bad temper . . .
Director Brian Pastor’s vigorous, imaginative staging features a fine 12-member cast who revel in the rhythmic, richly accented language through which Synge spins his hilarious yet poignant tale. Joshua Servantez is quite wonderful as Christy—mercurially antic and romantic as he blossoms under the affection that Michaela Voit’s Pegeen bestows upon him. Adam Bitterman is a hoot as the hardy father who refuses to die, and Brenda Wlazlo is a touching Widow Quin, Pegeen’s rival for Christy’s attentions. The rest of the ensemble is excellent, and their collective mastery of the script’s Hiberno-English idiom is awesome (a word I seldom use). Kudos to dialect coach Carrie Hardin—and to musician Richard Menges, who provides evocative harp accompaniment to the bursts of folk singing that the company has interpolated into the classic script.
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