Colonial Players' `Playboy' is a fine ending to season

May 09, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With John Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, Colonial Players ends its subscription season on the highest note.

Judging by acting quality, believability of characters, intensity of energy, historical authenticity and sheer artistry, this production rates excellent marks.

Also, director Lucinda Merry-Browne must be complimented for her comfortable pacing of the show, for coaching her actors to speak with a fine Irish brogue and for selecting a brilliant cast. She used the entire space for the theater in the round to heighten the drama as she allowed the audience a glimpse of characters through the windows before they entered a scene. The technique succeeded in delivering exciting surprises with a quartet of debut performances.

Like a well-rehearsed chorus, the ensemble glories in the rise and fall of every lilting emerald syllable. Anyone who fell short of perfection would have destroyed a spellbinding rhythm that approaches the sweep of opera in a plot filled with misplaced admiration of patricide and instant attractions between mismatched lovers.

At its 1907 opening in Dublin, Synge's play caused one of the worst riots in theater history, ignited by the word shift - a woman's undergarment.

Synge tells the story of young Pegeen Mike Flaherty, who tends to the customers' needs at her father's tavernlike cottage on the Atlantic coast in County Mayo. Pegeen plans to marry Shawn Keogh, her timid second cousin, until Christopher Mahon arrives at the cottage, running from the police, telling a story of killing his bullying father.

Pegeen is attracted to Chris, as are other girls and women, including the Widow Quin. They invent excuses to visit the cabin, soon dubbing Chris "the Playboy of the Western World." When his supposedly dead father turns up, Chris begins to lose his appeal and tries to kill his father to regain the waning feminine attention.

The cast is filled with believable performances. The play opens in darkness with a candle to light the scene when Shannon Benil as Pegeen appears. Benil played Lily St. Regis in Annie and Bebe in A Chorus Line at Chesapeake Music Hall, and her transformation into an Irish lass complete with lyrical brogue was astonishing.

Playing her suitor Shawn Keogh is Ian Wade, making his Colonial Players debut after a five-year absence from the stage. He is completely at home, exhibiting all the sniveling cowardice and duplicity the role demands.

Annapolis native Brandon Reed makes his first theater appearance in the leading role of Christopher Mahon, a role tailor-made for him. In his early scenes, Reed's Mahon is appropriately pathetic and awkward, but as he embellishes his tale of standing up to his brutish father, he gains confidence.

Reed transforms himself with a change of clothes, a gift from Shawn, later basking in the attention from a quartet of women. Reed summons enough athleticism for the physical scenes battling his captors.

Janet Luby is a powerful Widow Quin, exuding her desire to win Chris and upstaging the younger lasses. In another Colonial Players debut, Lance Lusk gives a strong performance as Pegeen's father. Chris Poverman is superb as Jimmy Farrell, powerful even as a silent listener fully engaged in the action. Ray Fulton as Old Mahon is outstanding in an excellent cast.

When Fulton's Mahon, Wade's Shawn and Poverman's Farrell are joined by Luby's Widow Quin standing on the bench to watch Chris' race through the window, they display ensemble acting at its finest.

Seats remain for several performances, Thursdays through Sundays to May 25. The theater is at 108 East St. in Annapolis. Tickets: 410-268-7373.

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