Magazine article American Theatre

New York City: Synge Our Contemporary

Magazine article American Theatre

New York City: Synge Our Contemporary

Article excerpt

Have you ever wondered why the Irish theatre is littered with dead babies? You know, those children who die offstage somewhere in a distant corner of Ireland--unbaptized infants who are never seen or heard, but who leave their poor mothers grieving for the rest of the play's duration? It may have been the Irish dramatist John Millington Synge (1871-1909) who first patented the infant-death theme--old Maurya, the mother in his one-act Riders to the Sea, has lost six of them. "That makes her a hard act to follow," notes the novelist Anne Enright in Synge: A Celebration. "I only mention this because offstage dead children make me cry."

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In his short life, Synge left behind only a handful of plays--six, to be exact. He is justly world-famous for one: The Playboy of the Western World. But because Synge was a collector of Irish popular folklore--and because his unvarnished form of realism refracted the regional dialects, rural ways and pagan beliefs of the Catholic peasant and fishing community on the remote Aran Islands--Synge's many theatrical innovations are obscured by time and by history.

In fact, says Garry Hynes, founding artistic director of Galway's Druid Theatre Company, the idealization of Synge as Ireland's national playwright "has been almost to his detriment. …

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