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playboy western world

The Playboy of the Western World

The Playboy of the Western World is a three-act play written by Irish playwright J. M. Synge and first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on January 26, 1907. It is set in Michael James Flaherty's public house in County Mayo (on the west coast of Ireland) during the early 1900s. It tells the story of Christy Mahon, a young man running away from his farm, claiming he killed his father. The locals are more interested in vicariously enjoying his story than in condemning the immorality of his murderous deed. He captures the romantic attention of the bar-maid Pegeen Mike, the daughter of Flaherty.

Characters in the Play

  • Christy Mahon
  • Old Mahon, Christy's father, a squatter
  • Michael James Flaherty, a publican
  • Margaret Flaherty, called Pegeen Mike, Michael's daughter, and the bar-maid
  • Shawn Keogh, Pegeen's betrothed
  • Widow Quin, a widow of about thirty
  • Philly Cullen and Jimmy Farrell, farmers
  • Sara Tansey, Susan Brady, Honor Blake, and Nelly, village girls
  • A Bellman
  • Some peasants

Synopsis

On the west coast of County MayoChristy Mahon stumbles into Flaherty's tavern. There he claims that he is on the run because he killed his own father by driving a spade into his head. Flaherty praises Christy for his boldness, and Flaherty's daughter (and the barmaid), Pegeen, falls in love with Christy, to the dismay of her betrothed, Sean. Because of the novelty of Christy's exploits and the skill with which he tells his own story, he becomes something of a town hero. Many other women also become attracted to him, including the Widow Quin, who tries unsuccessfully to seduce Christy at Sean's behest. Christy also impresses the village women by his victory at the race, using the slowest beast.

Eventually Christy's father, Mahon, who was only wounded, tracks him to the tavern. When the townsfolk realize that Christy's father is alive, everyone (including Pegeen) shuns him as a liar and a coward. In order to regain Pegeen's love and the respect of the town, Christy attacks his father a second time. This time it seems that Old Mahon really is dead, but instead of praising Christy, the townspeople, led by Pegeen, bind and prepare to hang him to avoid being implicated as accessories to his crime. Christy's life is saved when his father, beaten and bloodied, crawls back onto the scene, having improbably survived his son's second attack. As Christy and his father leave to wander the world, Sean suggests he and Pegeen get married soon, but she spurns him. Pegeen then laments betraying and losing Christy, The Playboy of the Western World.

The "Playboy Riots"

The Playboy Riots occurred in January 1907 during and following the opening performance of the play.

The fact that the play was based on a story of apparent patricide also attracted a hostile public reaction. Egged on by nationalists, including Sinn Féin leader Arthur Griffith, who believed that the theatre was not sufficiently political and described the play as "a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform", and with the pretext of a perceived slight on the virtue of Irish womanhood in the line "a drift of females standing in their shifts" (a shift being a female undergarment), a significant portion of the crowd rioted, causing the remainder of the play to be acted out in dumb show. Nevertheless, press opinion soon turned against the rioters and the protests petered out.

Years later, W. B. Yeats famously declared to rioters against Seán O'Casey's pacifist drama The Plough and the Stars, in reference to the "Playboy Riots": "You have disgraced yourself again, is this to be the recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?".

Adaptations

A movie version in 1962 starred Siobhán McKenna as Pegeen Mike and Gary Raymond as Christy Mahon. It was adapted and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst.

This play was adapted in 1984 by Trinidadian playwright Mustapha Matura, lifted out of turn of the century Ireland and set down in 1950's Trinidad, and retitled Playboy of the West Indies.

The play was adapted for a 1994 TV movie entitled Paris or Somewhere. Set in rural Saskatchewan, it starred Callum Keith Rennie as Christy Mahon, a young American farmer who arrives in town and claims to have killed his father. He charms the town with his story, particularly Peg (Molly Parker), the daughter of a local store owner and bootlegger. The screenplay was written by novelist Lee Gowan.

An operatic rendition (2003), by Mark Alburger, was premiered from August 23 to 26, 2007, with GHP/SF Cabaret Opera at Oakland Metro Opera House, Oakland, CA.

A musical version of this play, written by Kate Hancock and Richard B. Evans, premiered at the STAGES 2005 musical festival at the Theatre Building Chicago.

In 2006, a Mandarin language version of the play set in a hairdressers shop in a Beijing suburb was performed at the Beijing Oriental Theatre. It was produced by the Irish contemporary theatre company, Pan Pan Again, the play attracted controversy when a member of the audience complained about the shortness of the skirt worn by Sha Sha, playing the Sarah Tansey character. Following the complaint, the play was attended by two policemen.

In September 2007 The Playboy returned to the Abbey in a modern adaptation by Bisi Adigun and Roddy Doyle. Set in a suburb of west dublin, it tells the story of Christopher Malomo, a Nigerian refugee who claims to have killed his father with a pestle.

Quotes

  • "... it's great luck and company I've won me in the end of time — two fine women fighting for the likes of me — till I'm thinking this night wasn't I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone by." — Christy
  • "Drink a health to the wonders of the western world, the pirates, preachers, poteen-makers, with the jobbing jockies; parching peelers, and the juries fill their stomachs selling judgments of the English law." — Sara Tansey
  • "It's well you know what call I have. It's well you know it's a lonesome thing to be passing small towns with the lights shining sideways when the night is down, or going in strange places with a dog noising before you and a dog noising behind, or drawn to the cities where you'd hear a voice kissing and talking deep love in every shadow of the ditch, and you passing on with an empty, hungry stomach failing from your heart." — Christy
  • "A daring fellow is the jewel of the world...." — Michael Flaherty
  • "...the blow of a loy, have taught me that there's a great gap between a gallous story and a dirty deed."-Pegeen
  • "Oh my grief, I've lost him surely. I've lost the only Playboy of the Western World." — Pegeen Mike

Notes

References

(NOTE that the Project Gutenberg version is a single file, without line or page numbers. So to locate precisely any reference simply employ a text search on the relevant quotation.)

  • Synge, J.M., The Playboy of the Western World. Plain-text, from Project Gutenberg. Prepared by Judy Boss, 1998. (http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext98/potww10.txt)
  • Synge, J.M., The Playboy of the Western World. Commentary and notes by Non Worrall. London, 1983. ISBN 0-413-51940-6.
  • Kiely, David M., John Millington Synge: A Biography. New York, 1995.
  • " Pegeen Mike evokes a blush in Beijing", The Irish Times, 23 March 2006

See also

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