Starting on Monday, July 10, and finishing on Sunday, July 23, the company will present seven day-long performances of all the plays John Millington Synge ever wrote, directed by the Druid’s award-winning artistic director, Garry Hynes, who helped found the company in 1975.
The centerpiece will be Druid’s staging of “The Playboy of the Western World,” the only full-length work Synge completed before his untimely death in 1909, at the age of 38. In addition to “Playboy,” the Druid Theatre Company will be performing Synge’s quintet of one-acts, from his first, “The Shadow of the Glen,” to his last, “Deirdre of the Sorrows, which remained unfinished when its author died.
Of the other three, “Riders to the Sea” is probably the best-known, with “The Tinker’s Wedding” and “The Well of the Saints” only slightly less familiar.
Born in 1871, at Newtown Little, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, the privately educated Synge had been thrashing about in his attempt to find a calling. Proficient in Irish and Hebrew, he played piano, flute and violin, and in 1893, at age 22, went to Germany to further his studies in music.
In 1895, he settled in Paris, where he met William Butler Yeats. The poet recognized that Synge was potentially a gifted writer, but one in dire need of stabilization. Knowing that Synge spoke the Irish language, Yeats advised him to go to the Aran Islands, listen to the unique quality of the language spoken by the people, and to write about the way of life on the coast of Galway. “The Playboy of the Western World” became the greatest product of his time there.
Early on, however, Yeats reached out to Synge for plays to be performed at the Irish National Theatre which he helped found in 1904. The playwright came up with two brief works, both inspired by tales he had heard on Aran, first “Shadow of the Glen,” written in 1903 and then “Riders to the Sea,’ dating from the following year, only a few months before the Abbey premiere.
When the Abbey opened, Synge became the new theater’s literary adviser and later a company director, alongside Yeats and Lady Gregory.
“The Well of the Saints” was produced at the Abbey in 1905, and “The Playboy of the Western World” debuted there in 1907, causing a legendary riot, the causes of which have lately become, to some extent, the subject of controversy.
For the better part of a century, the accepted story was that the “Playboy” rioting had taken place because of the presence in the text of the word “shift,” referring to women’s undergarments. Experts of late seem to think that the expression was mainly a steam valve releasing tensions caused by other factors, including Synge’s rejection of social constraints and, in no small measure, his having made a hero of a lad who had bragged of murdering his father.
In 2004, to mark the start of the Abbey’s second century, the company sent a “Playboy” production, directed by Ben Barnes, then the troupe’s artistic director, to six American cities, sponsored mainly by universities. In New York, the show played for a week at NYU’s new Skirball Center.
All performances of “DruidSynge” will be at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, starting at 2 p.m. and ending at 10:36, with a 90-minute dinner break scheduled to begin at 5:20.