Friday, July 11, 2008

Complete Works of Synge Seen in Pittsburgh's Synge Cycle, July 17 - August 17

Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre will honor the centenary of the Irish Shakespeare, John Millington Synge, with Synge Cycle, a festival which gives audiences the opportunity to examine the complete body of his theatrical work over the course of a single month of theatre-going. A group of sixteen actors and five directors bring all seven of Synge’s stage plays to life, starting with The Playboy of the Western World on July 17, and continuing with his other six stage plays running in repertory through August 17. Intrepid theatergoers who wish to condense the experience will be able to see all seven plays over three days (August 8 – 10) or over two days (August 16 and 17).

The festival opens with Synge’s controversial masterpiece, The Playboy of the Western World, directed by PICT artistic director Andrew S. Paul. When Playboy opened at the Abbey Theatre on January 26, 1907, it sparked riots and altered theatrical history forever. Synge’s play focuses on Christopher Mahon, the lad who ‘slew his da,’ and this may simply have been too explicit in showing the sexual interest aroused by the playboy in the young Mayo women.

Following the opening of Playboy is One-Act Program A, featuring Synge’s tragic Riders to the Sea, directed by Sheila McKenna, and the hilarious Well of the Saints, directed by Martin Giles. In "Riders," a mother’s premonition of death is ignored as the capricious sea takes both of her sons from her. In "Saints," Martin and Mary Doul, an old, blind beggar couple, experience a miracle when their sight is restored to them by a traveling holy man.

One-Act Program B features the first and last plays in the Synge cannon, When the Moon Has Set, directed by Melissa Hill Grande, and Deirdre of the Sorrows, directed by Ellen Mease (who also serves as the Cycle dramaturg). PICT’s production of "Moon" marks the first time this haunting love story has ever been produced. In it, a young nun must decide whether to follow the laws of nature or the laws of the Church. "Sorrows" recounts the tale of the mythical Deirdre, intended bride of the Irish warrior-king Conchubor. The aging king has kept his prize hidden in the woods as she grew into adulthood, hoping to re-write destiny and keep a prophesy from coming true. When Deirdre sees the young warrior Naisi and his brothers, the strong-willed young woman decides that she will be no one’s pawn and takes fate into her own hands.

One-Act Program C features the comic Tinker’s Wedding, directed by Andrew S. Paul, and the Ibsen-inspired Shadow of the Glen, directed by Shelia McKenna. In "Wedding," an Irish gypsy woman decides that she wants her relationship with her lover to be blessed in the eyes of the church. "Shadow" looks to the end of a marriage and specifically the fate of a woman upon the death of her curmudgeonly older husband.

John Millington Synge was born into a well-to-do Protestant Ascendancy family in a Dublin suburb in 1871. Synge, along with Lady Augusta Gregory and William Butler Yeats, founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and are considered to be the foundation of the Irish literary renaissance. Inspired by advice from Yeats, Synge traveled to the Aran Islands in the western part of Ireland. There he studied the linguistic patterns of the natives, which inspired his signature musicality and poetic turns of phrase. He died at 38 from Hodgkin’s disease.

Tickets for The Playboy of the Western World are $17 to $47. Tickets for the Synge Cycle One-Acts programs are $20 ($17 for persons under 25). A $50 pass for Synge Cycle is good for all three of the Synge Cycle One-Act programs. Tickets to Synge Cycle can be purchased by calling 412-394-3353 or by visit

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