Lee Stark and Sean McNall in
The Playboy of the Western World
(© Gregory Costanzo)
Lee Stark and Sean McNall in
The Playboy of the Western World
(© Gregory Costanzo)
Ah, the rewards of patricide. Sure, we all knew father-killing may reap land, money, even the occasional accidental marriage to mom -- but who knew how popular it could make you among the young lasses of Ireland? This is the lesson learned by Christy Mahon in J.M. Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, now getting an uneven revival by The Pearl Theatre at City Center. This being an Irish comedy, though, you can bet the lessons aren't entirely blithe and bonny -- Synge's genial, slow-moving satire ultimately exposes the "great gap between a gallant story and a dirty deed."

And what a story Christy (Sean McNall) has to tell. Appearing worn and weary at the tavern of Michael James (Bradford Cover), Christy has barely purchased a pint before unfolding a grimly comic account of how he recently, spontaneously decided to off his old man. From the way he takes in his listeners, particularly the feisty barmaid/daughter, Pegeen Mike (Lee Stark), you might think Christy were a con man. Except for the fact that he doesn't have the confidence for it. Christy's a simple fellow from up north who's lucked into something good -- and rides it for all it's worth. Overnight, "this fine lad with great savagery" earns a job in the tavern, the respect of men, and the affection of giggling girls who pursue him like he were the fifth Beatle.

Plot complications are mainly of the romantic variety. The marvelously pragmatic Widow Quinn (Rachel Botchan) fights hard for Christy, while Pegeen's intended, Shawn (Ryan G. Metzger), makes several craven attempts to drive him away. The stakes remain relatively low, though, until it turns out Christy's dad may be not-quite-dead.

McNall never winks or condescends; he simply plunges forward on the unexpected rollercoaster of discoveries. It's a charming, thoroughly alive performance. Stark's Irish accent slips and slides, but she has a way with the mercurial lines. Botchan creates a viable love triangle with a performance that's somehow dignified in its desperation. Metzger can't handle his share of the load; he both over and underplays Shawn's cowardice.

In his first voyage as Pearl's artistic director, J.R. Sullivan paces the evening well and (with fight director Rod Kinger) pulls off a third act fight scene with as much out-of-nowhere tension as I've seen in some time. Pity that the evening's weakest moment is its last. We leave, quite literally, on an uncomfortable note that neither squares with the evening's tone nor gives us much food for thought.