The Irish are known for their storytelling, whether charming or absurd. As the Holy City leans toward charming, South of Broadway Theatre Company is taking risks with their production of J. M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World. Our hero, Christy Mahon (Sean Rafferty), has charmed County Mayo with his absurdity — which may say more about the desperation and boredom of life in Mayo than it does about Christy and his penchant for patricide.
South of Broadway has transformed its theater into an Irish pub, and hosts Philly and Faolan (Peter Ferneding and Michael Catangay) nimbly guide the audience from scene to scene. Early in the evening Christy arrives, hoping he has found a safe house. He is guilty of killing his father. Rather than expressing fear or apprehension, the community is immediately swept up in the story and declares, “There’s a daring fellow.” The ladies swoon.
The highlight performances are Elizabeth Mears as Pegeen Flaherty, the pub owner’s daughter; Kody Roza as Sean, the jilted love interest; and Mark Poremba as Old Mahon, Christy’s father risen from the grave. Mears is delightful, charming, and strong; she’s a wonderful storyteller. Roza is a master of subtle facial reactions and comic timing, and although Sean may be a little naïve, he is completely dear. These qualities are of no interest to Pegeen, who seems to prefer the thrill of a boy who is capable of murder.
And when Old Mahon finally enters, Poremba completely takes over. He is large and wild, angry, and haunted. We believe every single word coming out of his mouth — I wondered silently how SOBTC was going to handle this person’s intrusion onto the set. Synge should have given Old Mahon more airtime.
The set is beautifully designed and created by Richard Heffner hat a pleasure to see his work again in Charleston. His constructions are worth the ticket price. Caitlin Cashman dressed the set beautifully. Costumes, designed by Cara Carey, were thoughtfully detailed, bringing along the mud and dirt from the Irish bogs. There was no makeup on these shoes and costumes: these were simply very dirty.
One of the major risks director Linda Eisen took was the cast’s use of the Irish accent. Eisen and Dialect Coach Fred Hutter outdid themselves with authenticity. This was no Lucky Charms Leprechaun use of language. However, 45 minutes into the play I was still struggling to tune into the Irish brogue, and there was much that I missed. Patrons to my left and right stated at intermission that they were at a loss. The work and dedication to such genuineness is commendable he actors are clearly comfortable and never miss a beat. The detriment, however, is that the audience never has enough time to catch up and catch on, so much of the irony and humor is missed.
When leaving the theater, I overheard a young man’s reflections: “When did killing your father become a good thing?” If the brogue can be toned down a little, perhaps the Irish gift of irony can be enjoyed by everyone.