World" - 1/30/11
Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

Adobe Theater Presents
Playboy of the Western World

Also see Michelle's review of The Cone of Uncertainty:  New Orleans After Katrina

Georgia Athearn, Graham Gentz and Bridget S. Dunne
When John Millington Synge first mounted Playboy of the Western World in 1907, riots broke out during the opening performance outside the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Sinn Fein leader Arthur Griffith called it "a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform" and a slight on the virtue of Irish womanhood. Synge couldn't have hired a better publicist. When crowds poured in to see how bad it was, popular opinion shifted in favor of the boisterous comedy which exhibits the changing fortunes of a young vagabond, but the fickle folk who relish his tale of parricide become horrified by its re-enactment on their home turf.

The title character, Christy Mahon, skulks into Flaherty's pub in County Mayo, shy, smudged, twitchy from his nights on the run. He tells the publican Michael James Flaherty, played robustly by Steven Suttle, that he's fleeing from the law. His tale about killing his father with a single blow arouses the publican's daughter Pegeen Mike. Before Christy's arrival, Pegeen, played with spunk and a convincing Irish brogue by Bridget S. Dunne, has been resisting the pious marriage proposal of Shawn Keogh, played by Rafi Bromberg as a whining wimp unlikely to win the heart of any lass like Pegeen, who's clearly capable of running the pub and managing any man in her path, including her father. Suttle has performed recently at Aux Dog and Vortex, and Dunne at Aux Dog.

Village women rush in to gaze at and flirt with the thrilling young murderer, who cleans up into a handsome lad, much to his own surprise. The propertied Widow Quinn, played with lusty gusto by Georgia Athearn, offers him the best financial package: a home, land and livestock. Seasoned actor Athearn brings decades of experience in Chicago, Denver, and Albuquerque.

Three giggling village girls, played like a Greek chorus of fluttering birds by Kristen Buckels, Janine O'Neill, and Kristina Caffrey, all making their Adobe debuts, offer him gifts and dote on his every comfort. But Christy has already sized up his prospects and chosen Pegeen, not only because he likes her looks and personality but because he recognizes the economic desirability of being co-owner of a prosperous village pub. Village elders, played convincingly by Scott Sharot, veteran of Albuquerque theater, and Alan Hudson, the prize performer of the show discussed later, offer a skeptical male chorus to round out a cross-section of village folk across age and gender lines.

Graham Gentz actor, director, film and theater critic for The Daily Lobo, shows Christy's growth from his entrance as a frightened lad away from home, however abusive home is, to his final exit as one who's sized up his prospects and decides to go with the devil he knows, his growling Da, and not Pegeen and her fickle ways. With a quick glance in a hand mirror and a perusal of Flaherty's larder, Gentz shows us Christy's sudden blush of vanity and pragmatism as he sizes up Pegeen and her stock as his key to future prosperity. By the second act, Gentz's Christy has become adept at preening for his female admirers. His new pride kicks up his confidence to win in the villages races.

His fortunes turn when his father, played as raving mad by William Lang, well known to Albuquerque audiences, shows up not dead but frothing with fury to nab the good-for-nothing son who whacked him and ran off. Pub patrons, swooning over Christy's tale of courage, don't recognize the shiftless lad old Mahon describes he's hunting. But when father and son confront each other, the villagers realize that Christy didn't carry off the boasted murder. A liar doesn't charm them, as the murderer had. When Christy tries to kill his father again in front of the pub, villagers are so horrified they try to lynch him. Pegeen herself slips the noose over his head, an ultimate betrayal of the one to whom she'd just pledged her troth.

Albuquerque actor and director Frank Melcori has brought this gem of Irish comedy to life more than a century after its Dublin debut to the delight of the cast, who obviously enjoy embodying the Irish folk. The packed house for the first Sunday matinee laughed with abandon at the shenanigans of the lovable boozing, brawling Irish played in all their exaggerated stereotypic bombast.

Adobe's production of Synge's famous comedy serves as an appetizer for an Irish Play Festival planned for Spring 2012 to be performed by many Albuquerque theaters, including the Adobe. We owe this promise to one of the founding members of the Albuquerque Theater Guild, Alan Hudson, a native of Dublin and retired UNM linguistics professor, who is apparently responsible for the convincing Irish dialects of the whole cast.

Beyond his small role as Philly Cullen, Hudson opens the performance bathed in a green light, suggesting twilight phantoms of Irish folklore, in a prelude in Gaelic, which he translates as a warning to elude the fallen angels who fly about in the misty green gloom.

Lovers of Irish theater can speculate and possibly influence choices for 2012 festival plays. Perhaps theatres will mount Lady Gregory's gossipy Spreading the News and one by Sean O'Casey staged in the generation after Synge and several unveiling the dark visions of current playwrights.

Synge along with Lady Augusta Gregory, William Butler Yeats, and George William Russell, created the Irish National Theatre Society and established the Abbey Theatre in 1904, not to mock Irish peasantry but to celebrate the vitality of rural Irish folk in remote places, such as the Aran Islands, where Synge's famous tragedy Riders to the Sea is set. Synge's comic and tragic characters may be flawed, but their passions, wit, and imagination always tickle our hearts.

The Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St. NW, on Albuquerque's far northwest side is performing Playboy of the Western World on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, January 21 to Feb. 6, 2011. General tickets are $14, and those for seniors and students are $12. Make reservations by calling 505 898-9222 (weekdays only) or at the website

Photo: Ossy Werner  

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Albuquerque area

-- Rosemary Keefe

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