DruidSynge: Something to Synge About

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Something to Synge About

By New York Daily News, July 12, 2006

One writer. Six plays. Eight and a half hours for storytelling.
That’s the basic idea of “DruidSynge,” an ambitious and sensational salute by the Druid Theatre Company to its Irish countryman John Millington Synge, which opened Monday at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College (10th Ave., near 58th St.) as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.

Like any marathon, this theatrical event is an endurance test – and not just because of the running time, which includes breaks. Some actors have accents so thick you might regret not knowing Gaelic.

Still, delights abound in Synge’s slice-of-life tales of common Irish folk. Director Garry Hynes, a Tony winner for “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” has arranged the works so that their emotional wallops low from bleak tragedy to biting comedy and back.

“Riders to the Sea,” about a mother whose sons all go to watery graves, gets things off to a solemn start. Gripped by grief, she seeks comfort where she can. “Bartley will have a fine coffin,” she says, gazing at two planks leaning against her cottage wall. “What more can we want than that?”
Those boards never budge from the set, a sign that death is always nearby (Synge died at age 37 in 1909), even in the bawdy comedy “The Tinker’s Wedding,” about a rural couple and a greedy priest.
Synge’s best-known work, “The Playboy of the Western World,” about a man who becomes an instant celebrity after he says he’s killed his dad, is a rollicking highlight. On Monday, it didn’t incite riots as the 1907 Dublin premiere did, but it sparked raucous applause.
On the other hand, “Deirdre of the Sorrows,” Synge’s unfinished tragedy based on an Irish legend about love and betrayal, ends things on an odd note. The unironic tone and fancy speech are so out of synch with what’s come before, it’s jarring.
Despite that, Hynes gets terrific performances from the 19-member troupe. Marie Mullen (a best actress Tony winner for “Leenane”) is remarkable in her five leading parts. Aaron Monaghan, another multitasker, shines as the titular “Playboy,” while in the rich dark fable “The Well of the Saints” tarty and hilarious Sarah-Jane Drummey proves she could mix it up with any modern Mean Girl.
Lights by Davy Cunningham and costumes by Kathy Strachan add atmosphere to what must be the earthiest production in town. Beyond the gray-blue walls and a few sticks of furniture, Francis O’Connor’s set boasts a damp dirt floor as gritty as Synge’s characters. <