Glendale, April 25—A FINE CLOSE TO a fine season tonight at A Noise Within: John Millicent Synge's The Playboy of the Western World in a devoted, straight-ahead production, idiomatically directed by Geoff Elliott on a cluttered, atmospheric set by Stephen Gifford, set on a superb cast: a true ensemble theater with stellar performances by Michael Newcomer as Christy and Lindsay Gould as Pegeen.
It's such a wonderful play, quickly alternating among raucous humor, wry irony, and sudden pathos. There's no easy way to categorize it: from the distance of a century you can see Synge's relationship to Chekhov and even Ibsen, you can see Eugene O'Neil's connection later to Synge. I think I can even see a connection to the Tennessee Williams of Camino Real and The Night of the Iguana. But truly he's his own playwright, and Playboy is alone in its category.
It would take five minutes to tell the story plainly; it's not much more than a shaggy dog story.But Synge's dialogue is Irish poetry at its best, with far-flung, fanciful imagery, and he uses language to flesh out his characters; you get to know them, to become fond of them. Some — Widow Quin, Shawn Keogh — clearly are borrowed from commedia dell'arte; others are stock Irish comics; but all find individuality, dimension, and dignity through Synge's genius, based on keen observation, channeled through fondness for humanity, sharpened by awareness of the pathetic position of those whose place is below both their aspiration and their deserts.
Thursday night we saw a remarkably fine Much Ado About Nothing; Friday night a splendid Awake and Sing; tonight this marvelous Playboy. A Noise Within has grown over the years to become a truly inspired repertory company, with a stable of actors who seem able to turn on a dime, a team of directors who respect the scripts they're given yet bring them to life, and artistic direction that chooses repertory wisely, investigating the classics, foreign-language rep (in translation, of course), and neglected corners of the 20th century.
Best of all, you can see these three endlessly entertaining plays in a short visit to Los Angeles. The season continues through May 25, and I don't know when I've been more enthusiastic about a recommendation.