A round-trip ticket to Dublin from Fresno runs about $1,200. Add to that the cost of a rental car to the west coast of Ireland, and you’re looking at a cost of at least $1,500 to visit picturesque County Mayo.
Or you could plunk down less than $20 and be transported a world (and a century) away in the new Fresno State production of John Millington Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World.”
Often when writing about theater — especially about such works as “Playboy,” first performed in 1907, that get the “classic” label — it’s tempting to dive deeply into the work to find all the gorgeous meaning that must obviously be there for it to be remembered today.
You can easily do that with “Playboy,” which is considered the greatest play by one of Ireland’s most celebrated playwrights, John Millington Synge.
There are many intellectual avenues to pursue in this tale of an Irish chap who walks into a tavern, confesses he has killed his father and promptly becomes a hero to the bored clientele. One of the best themes to talk about is this: From Robin Hood to Bonnie and Clyde, from gangsters to gangstas, “History provides countless examples of notorious criminals who gained superstar status in the minds of the general public,” director Brad Myers notes in the “Playboy” program.
Why, he asks, are historical or fictional criminals so often idolized?
But Myers doesn’t want to deter audiences from the rousing good time that is “Playboy” by getting too brainy. For him, this play is a passport, if you will, to a unique place and culture.
“Synge has created a twisty-turny story set in the lush realm of eccentric Irish commoners, and dialogue which is ladened with the colorful idioms of rural Ireland,” he notes. “A ticket to this production is a passport to a land steeped in faith, mythology, and superstition; where the people are both foolish and profound, as they desperately strive to find meaning and mirth in their difficult lives.”
Despite all of the play’s thematic resonances with contemporary issues, Myers has been steered the most throughout the directorial process by something Synge once wrote: “The drama, like the symphony, does not teach or prove anything.”
Synge was not trying to moralize nor to instruct his audiences, Myers says. Neither is this production. Myers even uses the dreaded “E” word.
“Escapism may seem like a dirty word to theater sophisticates,” he says. “However, I most hope to transport audiences to another time and place; to delight audiences with a captivating story and robust characterizations.”
So walk into Flaherty’s Tavern, grab a seat at the bar and prepare yourself for a rousing romp. You won’t even get jet lag.