Raven Theatre. By J.M. Synge. Directed by Michael Menendian. With ensemble cast. 2hrs; one intermission.
Theater review by Gwen Purdom
When The Playboy of the Western World debuted in 1907 Dublin, Irish nationalists in the audience found the show so morally offensive, a riot broke out. The production now playing at Raven Theatre doesn’t seem quite as volatile to modern American sensibilities, but it’s certainly lively.
At the root of that vivaciousness is Pegeen Mike, a feisty barmaid played with just the right sharp-tongued charm by Raven regular Jen Short. Pegeen and other locals in her tight-knit rural Irish village are quickly snared with curiosity when a mysterious stranger stumbles into their pub. The young man, Christy Mahon (Sam Hubbard), comes bearing tales of a terrible crime and enough intrigue to stir up the townsfolk—the lady townsfolk in particular. But it's strong-willed Pegeen who catches his eye.
The romantic banter and slickly choreographed slapstick that ensues still hold up more than a century after J.M Synge penned the work, though the storyline gets a bit bogged down in confusing tangents and that thick Irish brogue. Character and chemistry drive the show and in this production the cast is boiling over with both. Hubbard grows to embody the mythical proportions his new fans assign him. Graham Emmons, as Pegeen’s withering scaredy-cat of a fiancé, brings a finely-tuned and highly entertaining physicality to what could be an overlooked role. Fellow townspeople fill out the tapestry of the community, adding color and gleeful depth—especially when they’re sharing a pint or a swig. But along with a thoughtfully-crafted set by Andrei Onegin, what the actors and their surroundings ultimately create is a rich, multi-dimensional energy that, when it works, can be downright infectious.