DruidSynge: DruidSynge - a 9-hour celebration

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DruidSynge - a 9-hour celebration

By Michael Kuchwara The Associated Press, July 11, 2006

NEW YORK – The comedy is often as bleak as the tragedy in the plays of John Millington Synge, but that may be why they have a special appeal to modern audiences, nearly 100 years after the Irish playwright’s death.
The troupe‘s nearly nine-hour Synge celebration, which includes a 90-minute dinner break, currently is on view at Lincoln Center Festival 2006 after premiering last year at the company‘s home base at Galway in western Ireland.
Yet right from the start, “DruidSynge” hits you in the gut, opening with “Riders to the Sea,” the fiercest tragedy in Synge‘s short canon. The grief is almost unbearable, particularly the lamentations of Maurya, who has lost sons and a husband to the sea. Now she is brooding over her two remaining male offspring and whether they, too, will be given up to the waves.
It is Mullen, in fact, who gives a series of standout performances in this celebration, and her range is immediately apparent in “The Tinker‘s Wedding,” which follows “Riders to the Sea” on the bill. In “Wedding,” she portrays a raucous, drunken hag whose indifferent son is being corralled into marriage by a slatternly younger woman.
The most surprising play and one which American regional theaters might look into performing is “The Well of the Saints.” Mullen and the invaluable Morrissey portray an aging blind couple whose sight is restored. Vision destroys their preconceived, forever-youthful notions of each other. The twosome find they prefer illusion to the reality of old age.
“The Shadow of the Glen” is often called a precursor to Synge‘s masterpiece, “The Playboy of the Western World.” Both feature unhappy heroines, trapped in poor, rural Ireland. In “Glen,” Nora (Catherine Walsh) finds a way to leave her older husband, a cankerous, funny portrait by Morrissey.
Walsh and Aaron Monaghan, who plays Christy, make an appealing couple. There is an almost sweet, goofy charm to their courtship, which makes their separation in the end doubly painful.
“Deirdre of the Sorrows,” Synge’s last play and which concludes “DruidSynge,” was never quite revised before his death. It’s a fanciful legend, sort of an Irish “Romeo and Juliet”: Young lovers thwarted by their elders, in this case an old king who plans to marry the title character.
A special mention should be make of the production design. Francis O‘Connor‘s white, high-walled setting, with only minor modifications, serves all the plays with remarkable ease. And Kathy Strachan‘s mostly earth-tone costumes and Davy Cunningham‘s exquisite lighting are invaluable assets.
Synge died of Hodgkin‘s disease in 1909, less than a month before his 38th birthday. His output may have been meager, but, as “Druidsynge” demonstrates, these half-dozen plays deliver bountiful rewards.