Friday, May 02, 2008

"Playboy of the Western World" and "Rabbit Hole"

This is the last weekend for TheatreWorks' student production of Playboy of the Western World - and it's well worth your time to see it.

First, J. M. Synge's 1907 play is much more than an historical curiosity. Though it no longer inspires riots as its premier did, its depiction of rural Irish life - and by extension, human nature - is still bitterly, riotously funny. And the language has a lyric beauty that's all but vanished from the world. (For reasons Synge explains in his preface to the play.)

Second, it's one of the finest student productions I've seen at TheatreWorks, with clear direction from Laura Tesman, a gorgeous Roy Ballard set, and some thrilling fights choreographed by Gene Gillette. Colin Gregory shows tremendous skill range as Christy - the mysterious stranger who's lionized in a small Irish town for having murdered his father.

Synge's play twists and turns as it explores mob mentality. The final master-stroke is both the crowning absurdity and the gateway into the play's profound ending.

Meanwhile, this is also the final weekend for the Star Bar Players' excellent production of Rabbit Hole. Playboy is upstairs in the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater; Rabbit Hole is downstairs at the Osborne Studio Theater.

If you could only attend one, I'd recommend Rabbit Hole. Its cast is more skillful and more experienced, with a performance by Steve Emily as Howie that's not likely to be bettered this year. David Lindsay-Abaire's tale of a family's reaction to the death of their child isn't likely to age as well as Synge's masterpiece, but it's still an extraordinary script in which every line and every reaction rings true.

So what accounts for the disparity in attendance between the two productions? On Thursday night, Playboy was absolutely full; when I saw Rabbit Hole on opening night, a smaller house was about two-thirds full. Is this simply a result of TheatreWorks's superior marketing and larger subscriber base? Really cheap tickets for Playboy? The fact that it has a large student cast, all of whom have numerous friends? The arguably off-putting subject matter of Rabbit Hole?

I am, as usual, mystified.

The Star Bar Players present Rabbit Hole
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Osborne Studio Theater, UCCS, 3955 Cragwood Drive
Tickets: $15/$12 seniors, military and students; 573-7411 or

TheatreWorks presents The Playboy of the Western World
When: 7:30 p.m. today, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive,
Tickets: $10; 262-3232 or