In a town where drinking is less of an occasion as it is a pastime, you’ll find the usual suspects lolling the evening away at the neighborhood watering hole. Nursing their hallowed pints, staggering from one end of the room to the other, one seeks an attentive ear to pour their sundry woes or trumped up triumphs into. There’s the tug-of-war between politics and religion, flirtation and damnation. Braggarts and dolts, strumpets and raving lunatics alternately take center court. At the crux of their banal toil, everyone is just clamoring for something even mildly exciting to happen.

This might sound like a typical night at the bar in Fullerton, but it is actually J. M. Synge’s Irish lyrical comedy Playboy of the Western World. First staged in 1907, the play sent the dramatic world reeling and the Gaelic nationalists rioting because of content that crossed the boundaries of decency and which promulgated the stereotype of Ireland natives as witless drunkards. This production by Stages Theatre, is executed with such charm and sharp comedic flavor that one would have to be an actual fool to take offense.

Set in rural County Mayo, the story depicts its denizens as ne’er-do-wells who bide their time waiting for some random event that will give them license to drink even more. In fact, a wake is one of the few lively activities in the countryside that they revel in; keeping vigil with the corpse as they while the time with spirituous glee. Returning to the public house — or pub as it is more informally known today —  their humdrum existence is rescued by the appearance of a mysterious man who is seeking refuge from the authorities. Eventually divulging that he has killed his own father, the aimless dredge from the west coast gains the fascination of the congregation, seen as some sort of cause celebre in the vein of the Menendez brothers. What transpires in the 3-part farcical satire is intrigue, romance, stark revelation and physical mayhem — evolving seamlessly in that order.

Director Elizabeth Serra (trained at the British American Drama Academy in London) does a fantastic job of orchestrating the characters throughout the acts, giving them presence even when they’re not at the center of the action. Especially remarkable was how well the brawl scene was choreographed — almost short of the audience making wagers for the victor. John Gaw, always impeccable and detail-oriented with his set designs, succeeds once again in creating a terrific backdrop of the dank and austere shebeen. Also to be commended is Adam Evans for his sound design; with some outdoor dialogue that is only heard and not seen, he was able to build another dimension to the presentation.

Although it takes some time to get into the accents of this particular period; most of the actors make a decent job of it while some are better than others in affecting the lilt. Jennifer “Murphy” Pearce, who plays the female lead Margaret “Pegeen” Flaherty, is perfectly fluid and mellifluous in her mastery of the brogue. (You have to expect that she would be with a monicker like Murphy.) Her stunning performance as the daughter of the pub owner is played with so much authenticity that you feel instantly transported to that era.

The playboy Christopher “Christy” Mahon is played by Ben Green, who is very likable, but at the onset slips and slides through his accent. Like his character, and especially in the scene where he tosses off his shirt to reveal his lean and strapping physique, he grows so much confidence that he becomes completely believable as the beguiling charlatan that the villagers have become enamoured with.

Amber Scott, as the Widow Quin, is deliciously wicked and somehow dignifies her desperation as the interloper between Pegeen and Christy, thereby creating a love triangle of sorts. Ryan Holihan as Shawn Keough, he who is intent on purusing Pegeen, plays down his character’s cowardice with a scarecrow-like demeanor; trying to maintain his stance, but cowering at the slightest provocation. Steve Biggs as the pub owner, Sean Hesketh and Benjamin Ooley as two sotted patrons, John Sturgeon as the surprise character, and Caitlyn O’Conner, Mary Sherg and Taylor Rich as the wonderfully annoying floozies round up the rest of the cast, which gives Playboy its delightful twist.

So after consuming corned beef, green beer or a shamrock shake, don your celebratory green and head on over to Stages to enjoy a carousing evening of Playboy of the Western World. It will be the most unique and entertaining time you’ve ever had on a St. Patrick’s Day weekend, or possibly any weekend for that matter. Erin go brah and may the luck of the Irish smile on ya!

Playboy of the Western World
Saturday and Sundays at 5pm
March 10 – April 7

Stages Theatre
400 E. Commonwealth Avenue (east of Lemon Street)

Corky Nepomuceno

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