|DruidSynge, Druid's groundbreaking production of all six of Synge's plays, performed to full houses and critical acclaim during its recent visit to Lincoln Center Festival New York and Guthrie Theatre Minneapolis.|
Described as a 'powerfully moving' by the New York Times, 'a monumental achievement' by Variety Magazine, 'revelatory' by the New York Post and 'epic' by Newsday, the production received ecstatic responses and standing ovations nightly.
In the words of Charles Isherwood of The New York Times, 'this production will sing in the hearts and minds of those who see it for a long time to come'. For The New York Times review, see below. For more reviews of the New York and Minneapolis performances and further information about DruidSynge, please visit www.druid.ie/druidsynge
NEW YORK TIMES
July 12, 2006
The Six-Play 'DruidSynge': Why Not Take All of Him?
By CHARLES ISHERWOOD
A hypothetical question. A weekday in New York dawns warm, clear, unseasonably dry. The necessity of work seems an affront, with the carefree enticements of a beautiful day in the city emitting signals of seduction. This is what God created sick days for, after all. Tempted to sin, do you choose to while away the afternoon gamboling through Central Park? Hop on a train to the beaches, blissfully free of weekend crowds? Zip out to Shea to exult in the company of the surging Mets for a day game?
Or do you enter a dark theater near Lincoln Center at 2 p.m., to emerge some eight and a half hours later, having spent the day and evening submerged in the little-known oeuvre of the Irish playwright J. M. Synge in its entirety?
Don't all jump at once, guys: tickets are still available!
Passionate theater lovers will, I hope, have already made their plans to attend "DruidSynge," the celebrated cycle of all six Synge plays created by Garry Hynes, the Tony Award-winning director of Martin McDonagh's "Beauty Queen of Leenane," among many other productions, and founder of the Druid Theater Company in Galway, Ireland. More than a quarter-century in development, first produced in its entirety last summer in Ireland, and an award winner at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival, "DruidSynge" is the theatrical centerpiece of this year's Lincoln Center Festival.
For those benighted folks who would prefer to spend a glorious summer day outdoors, please read on. The beaches aren't going anywhere, Central Park is an eternal resource, and the Mets - let us pray - will be surging through the rest of the summer. But Ms. Hynes's magnificent journey through the dark, comic landscape of one of the less celebrated Irish literary masters will be around only for a couple of weeks, and it shouldn't be missed. (There are two weekend performances, this Sunday and next, for those morally opposed to shirking work.)
Grandly entertaining and powerfully moving, "DruidSynge" is a major achievement for Ms. Hynes, her design collaborators and her superb 19-member acting company. Ranging across wide emotional territory without missing a beat, it brings alive a milieu that feels both intriguingly remote and utterly intimate, exotic in the eccentric syntax and unruly lyricism of its earthy dialogue - God bless the Irish! - but familiar in its consoling knowledge of the loneliness and despair that are the sorrowful scars of all humankind.
Admittedly, the prospect seems daunting. Six plays in a single day? A writer's whole canon poured into the theatrical equivalent of a Super Big Gulp? But consider that Synge was an economical writer, unusually for the early years of the 20th century. (The name is pronounced "sing," incidentally.) Half of the plays, all written from 1902 to 1909, when Synge died of cancer at just 37, are one-acts lasting a half-hour or so, and the cycle is generously leavened with breaks, including an hour and a half for dinner.
Intimidated myself when I traveled to Dublin last summer, I initially saw the plays in three separate programs, before returning, at the friendly urging of Ms. Hynes, to see "DruidSynge" in a one-day immersion. She was right to persuade me: the cycle was designed to be experienced as a single entity, and is more powerful seen whole. The Lincoln Center Festival has wisely - and bravely - programmed it in full-day installments only. Among other advantages, seeing it complete affords you the opportunity to marvel at the nimble versatility and the remarkable endurance of the actors, some of whom have roles in most of the plays. I should start by mentioning the indispensable contributions of Marie Mullen - the great and glorious Marie Mullen I can't resist calling her - whom New York theatergoers will remember for her Tony-winning portrayal of the frustrated heroine of "Beauty Queen."
Ms. Mullen appears in all but one play, and has major roles in most. Her forceful presence helps underscore Ms. Hynes's quiet emphasis on the centrality of women in Synge's oeuvre. Ms. Mullen is the dominant central character, the desperate mother Maurya, in the first play, the brief and wrenching "Riders to the Sea." A stark depiction of grief in a form so pure and profound that it seems to sear the flesh, this haunting play stands apart from the rest of Synge's work, along with "Deirdre of the Sorrows," which is performed last, for its absence of humor.
In bookending the cycle this way, Ms. Hynes accentuates the essential darkness of Synge's vision of life, which may come as a surprise to theatergoers familiar with his best-known play (indeed, for most, his only known play), the savagely funny "Playboy of the Western World." Ms. Hynes also stresses the continuity of Synge's themes by performing all the plays on a moody basic set by Francis O'Connor on which a pair of white boards - destined to become a coffin in "Riders" - remain quietly but portentously present, a potent symbol of the piteous but mundane inevitability of death.
But if Synge never glossed over the most brutal truths of human experience - the chief one being its inevitable extinguishing - his mournful sensitivity to suffering was matched by an unapologetic delight in the life force that pulses in the veins of the tinkers, beggars and country people who shuffle or trudge or leap across the stage, expressing passionate loves and hates in some of the most gorgeous rustic language you'll ever hear onstage, language almost Shakespearean in its texture and vitality. (Don't fret if you lose some of the dialogue, as you surely will, given the idiomatic delivery of the actors and the imperfect acoustics of the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College; there's plenty more on the way.)
Battered by want and the hard weather of Ireland, at the mercy of the brutal hearts of their fellow men, turning to the inevitable bottle for quick solace, Synge's characters somehow hold fast to visions of hope and glimpses of possible salvation. In the raucous comedy "The Tinker's Wedding," a young woman (played with delicious spunk by Simone Kirby) is determined to get a ring from her man, but must battle the venality of a boozy priest and the rather more powerful opposition of her snarlingly irreverent would-be mother-in-law (Ms. Mullen, as riveting as a bawdy drunk as she was as the grief-choked Maurya only moments before).
In "The Well of the Saints" two blind beggars (Ms. Mullen and the terrific Eamon Morrissey) are miraculously cured by an itinerant preacher, only to emerge from their lonely isolation to see more fully the moral ugliness of the world around them.
The sustaining necessity of illusion is also at the heart of "Playboy," flawlessly performed here as the penultimate offering, with Aaron Monaghan inhabiting the role of the would-be parricide Christy Mahon with the same lively authority he brings to several other comic roles. Catherine Walsh is every bit his equal as a physically vigorous Pegeen Mike; Derry Power is side-splittingly funny as Pegeen's soused father; and Ms. Mullen gives what may be the most delicate and touching of her performances here as a sweetly lascivious but ultimately compassionate Widow Quin.
After the intoxicating high of "Playboy," it must be acknowledged that "Deirdre of the Sorrows" comes as a bit of a letdown and, to be entirely honest, a bit of a trial too. Written in a high-flown idiom that lacks the pungent humanity of the dialogue in the other plays, this story of a tragic love triangle in ancient Eire challenges Ms. Hynes's desire to present Synge's work as a wonderfully variegated but ultimately cohesive whole. Only with this archly poetic play does Ms. Hynes seem to be straining after effects, and perhaps for a big finish. (One could have done without the slightly mawkish final image of a young boy carrying onstage a portrait of Synge.)
But it would be a shame - make that a disgrace - to leave before "Deirdre," pleading fatigue or an early meeting. The plays are not performed with individual curtain calls. So only at the conclusion of the cycle do we have a chance to acknowledge the company's extraordinary work, the collective artistry that has brought to life this spellbinding pageant of fine words and savagery, to borrow Pegeen Mike's phraseology, which will sing in the hearts and minds of those who see it for a long time to come.
The Plays of John Millington Synge
A program of plays by Synge: "Riders to the Sea," "The Tinker's Wedding," "The Well of the Saints," "The Shadow of the Glen," "The Playboy of the Western World" and "Deirdre of the Sorrows." Conceived and directed by Garry Hynes; design by Francis O'Connor; costumes by Kathy Strachan; lighting by Davy Cunningham; sound by John Leonard; composer, Sam Jackson. Presented by the Druid Theater Company. Part of the Lincoln Center Festival 2006. At the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 899 10th Avenue, at 58th Street, Clinton; (212) 721-6500. Through July 23. Running time: 8 hours 36 minutes, with three intermissions and a dinner break.
WITH: Sarah-Jane Drummey, Richard Flood, Simone Kirby, Mick Lally, Marcus Lamb, Nick Lee, Louise Lewis, Eoin Lynch, Hannah McCabe, Charlie McCarthy, Aaron Monaghan, Eamon Morrissey, Marie Mullen, Derry Power, Peg Power, Gemma Reeves, Catherine Walsh, John Gaughan and Joseph Gaughan.