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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey


  Michael A. Newcomer and Izzie Steel/ Ph: Gerry Goodstein

Walter Kerr, the late drama critic, cited The Playboy of the Western World as one of the four or five finest plays of the 20th century. It appears to be a most valid observation. The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey opens its 51st season with the expressively fiery folk comedy by John Millington Synge. The play provoked considerable violence at its Dublin premiere in 1907, and again when it was initially presented in the United States for its realistic depiction of the manners and mores of Irish coastal life and its negative stereotypes.
The subtext reveals a peasant culture ground down by poverty and folksy superstition. As staged by Paul Mullins, the Garden State staging is a rousing, picturesque study of the gullible, simple inhabitants of a remote coastal village. Christy Mahon, played by Michael A. Newcomer, stumbles into a pub inhabited by local besotted villagers. It appears that the fugitive is on the run having murdered his ornery father. The tolerant local peasants, while somewhat awestruck by the vagabond intruder, are also oddly supportive of his wild behavior and charismatic appeal.
The dialogue is richly and humorously colloquial, and the actors bring an authentic ring and resonance to their portrayals. Newcomer is colorfully rebellious, and Izzie Steel is fiery and self-confident as Pegeen. Expressively spunky and bursting with life, she become a wild tornado of a girl and flirtatiously tart.
Emma O'Donnell adds a lusty account of the provocative Widow Quin, and Edmond Genest (an 18-year veteran of the Shakespeare Theater) is properly ill tempered as old Mahon, who apparently isn't as dead as we thought. James Russell is wonderfully cartoonish as the timid Shawn Keogh. Matt Sullivan is a good-humored publican, and a handful of barefooted and giddily smitten village gals add sufficient local color to the action.
Brittany Vasta has designed a gloomy rural pub that serves the action well, and the exquisite lighting design by Michael Giannitti nicely frames the gloom of the period. Credit too goes to Candida Nichols for the farm-tossed threads worn by the villagers.
Here is an opportunity to take in a seldom-seen classic. Next up on the campus of Drew University is another comic gem: Noel Coward's rarely produced Fallen Angels.


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