Arts Listings

By Ken Bullock

Druid Theatre Brings 'The Playboy of the Western World' to Rep
Thursday October 02, 2008 - 09:42:00 AM

Druid Theatre Co. of Galway on Ireland’s West Coast—the first professional theater company in Ireland outside Dublin—will present their celebrated staging of John Millington Synge’s comic masterpiece, The Playboy of the Western World (1907), along with Synge’s earlier short play, The Shadow of Glen, next week, presented by CalPerformances in association with Berkeley Rep. 

Druid (their official one word name), co-founded in 1975 by Garry Hynes, who directed Playboy as Druid’s first production when the company was a summer theater, is noted for their DruidSynge day-long marathon in 2005, which toured cities in Ireland, Scotland and the U.S. Conceived and directed by Hynes, DRUIDSYNGE staged all six plays of Synge’s short career (he died in 1909 at 37) in a single performance, a first in producing Synge’s work. 

Hynes has referred to him as “our house playwright.” 

Synge, born near Dublin, was originally a violinist who first pursued an unsuccessful music career in Germany, then moved to Paris to study literature at the Sorbonne, where W. B. Yeats met him, translating Petrarch and writing poetry. At Yeats’ bidding, Synge returned to Ireland and lived in the Aran Islands to collect folktales, later setting some of his plays there and elsewhere in the West. When Yeats and Lady Gregory founded the Irish National Theatre in 1905, Synge’s plays were produced to derision by Irish nationalists, and PLAYBOY’s premiere, Jan. 26, 1907, is famous in modern Irish history as “the Playboy Riots.” Future president of the Irish Free State Arthur Griffin called it vile and foul-mouthed, which Synge countered by saying that in Paris there was sex on stage without other elements, in Ireland “the other elements without the sex. I restored sex and people were so surprised, they saw the sex only.” His later play, The Tinker's Wedding wasn’t staged in Ireland until Synge’s centennial in 1971. His plays influenced other playwrights, including Samuel Beckett, Federico Garcia Lorca in Spain (whose Blood Wedding was modeled on Synge’s Riders to the Sea, which also influenced Eugene O’Neill), and those employing ethnic idioms and folk customs everywhere, including writers of the Harlem Renaissance.. 

Playboy, based on incidents Synge heard of in Western Ireland, concerns a young man who becomes a celebrity when he arrives in a County Mayo town, declaring he’s killed his father. Shadow of the Glen tells of a man who fakes his own death, exposes his wife’s infidelity and turns her out in winter, taken from the folk stories Synge collected. 

Garry Hynes, the first woman to win a Tony Award (in 1998 for Martin McDonagh’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE), past artistic director of the Abbey Theatre (where Playboy originally premiered) and close professional associate of playwright Tom Murphy, whose Bailegangaire, directed by Hynes, turned out to be “the swan song” for the great Siobhan McKenna, commented on Synge and on present-day Irish theater, placing Synge as part of the great European theatrical tradition, closely related to then-current plays and prefigures more modern ones. “I think his Well of the Saints reads today more like it was influenced by Beckett than the other way around.” On working with Martin McDonagh, Hynes remarked, “When I originally read his scripts, I knew immediately that here was a distinctive voice, extraordinarily skilled in storytelling and dialogue. We worked together for six months on the production of The Beauty Queen; he sat in on rehearsals. I don’t think he could write in the way he does without such close involvement.”  

Of Tom Murphy, Hynes says, “I think he’s one of the great writers of the 20th century.” 

Commenting on the imbroglio that Playboy originally met with, Hynes says, “Ireland has undergone an entire change. In the past, the Catholic Church was the central moral authority. That’s entirely disappeared. Ireland’s so transformed in every possible way, it would be hard to recognize the way it was, 20 years ago.” 

And asked about her approach to the humor of plays like A Streetcar Named Desire (which she directed at the Kennedy Center), Hynes said, “I approached it like a play written today, not as a great classic. The humor in it is the humor of the human situation; you have to create the situation for the humor to make sense.” 



Wed. (Oct. 8)-Fri. (Oct. 10), 8 p. m.; Sat (Oct. 11) 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sun. (Oct. 12), 3 p.m. 

The Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison St. 

Tickets $75