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New York City Theater

"Druid/Synge" (Lincoln Center Festival 2006)
John Jay Theatre, Manhattan

For those appreciative of John Millington Synge, the Lincoln Center Festival 2006 offers a treat—or a punishment—depending how you view it. Devotees of the Irish playwright can see his entire canon in one 8 ½ -hour sweep, from 2 to 10:30 p.m. on certain July days. And arguably this marathon is the highlight of this summer’s Festival.

This marvelous writer, long neglected in this country, comes into his own in this current presentation. Who better to bring Synge to America than the eminent Druid Theater Company of Galway? Under Garry Hynes’ direction, the cast moves as one seamless unit, proving that players who have worked together over the years make the best ensembles. Even so, there are the best among equals, with Marie Mullen and Aaron Monaghan managing to stand out in a first-class cast.

The Druid offers Synge from the comic to the tragic--and all combinations in between--from short pieces to full-length dramas. Keystone to the collection is the hilarious comedy and Synge’s best-know piece, “Playboy of the Western World,” and his other full-length plays include “Riders to the Sea” and “Deirdre of the Sorrows.” Also on the program are “The Tinker’s Wedding,” “The Shadow of the Glen,” and “The Well of the Saints.”

The language throughout the plays is salty, vivid, and authentic, and Synge’s remarkable perception of human emotions and behavior never falters. Synge came into his own as a playwright when he returned from life as an expatriate in Europe and proceeded to spend time in the Aran Islands. There he encountered the primitive, remote peoples off the west coast of Ireland, and there he would find his vision and his voice. Stripped of the frivolities of the modern world, these people were an endless source of inspiration for Ireland’s first major playwright.

The marathon opens on a high note--with “Riders to the Sea.” This bleak world comes to life on stage. Designer Francis O’Connor sets the scene, a cottager’s home, with its bare walls and dirt floor. Combined with Davy Cunningham’s cold, sharp lighting, a stark poetic world emerges. There director Hynes and company play out the tragic tale of a woman of Aran who has lost six sons at sea.

In the later full-length pieces, “Playboy of the Western World” is brilliant, though here as elsewhere several of the performers are nigh incomprehensible—the dialects proving far too difficult for American audiences. Moreover, “Dierdre of the Sorrows” proves to be ponderous and boring, as it explores a mystical world.

Yet, all told, it is a memorable experience. The stage is set with “Riders to the Sea.” Comedies and tragedies follow in rapid sequence (with brief intermissions and a supper break), leaving the viewers exhausted, replete and immensely satisfied after a long day’s journey.

-- Irene Backalenick
July 14, 2006

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