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Riot-provoking play comes to local stage

BY JOSIE JONES | NOVEMBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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In 1964, Rich Riggleman played the role of the bell announcer in the controversial play The Playboy of the Western World. Now, 45 years later, he is directing a production of that play for Dreamwell Theatre in its “Season of Inciting Theatre.”

The play is characteristic of Dreamwell’s season. It follows the story of a young Irish man who claims to have murdered his father with a loy — a shovel-type tool used for activities such as digging potatoes or plowing fields. He travels to a west-coast Irish town where he becomes a hero for being athletic, attractive, and new to the community. With substories intertwined in the production, Playboy is humorous with a lot of action.

The Playboy of the Western World will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Society, 10 S. Gilbert St. Admission ranges from $8 to $12.

The production caused riots in Dublin when it was first produced in 1907. Riggleman said the uprising was because of the audiences’ misinterpretation of playwright J.M. Synge’s intentions.

“[The audience] thought Synge was making fun of them,” the 77-year-old said. “He was pointing things out about them, but he wasn’t trying to be nasty about it.”

Riggleman said he doesn’t see a difference between the play’s Irish characters being drawn to a murderous man and the people in today’s society. Modern people are still intrigued by horrific incidents, he said, such as a car accident or a hard-hitting football play.

Ottavia De Luca, a San Francisco native, doesn’t think the play would cause riots in today’s society because times have changed.

“We’re so used to hearing more shocking things,” De Luca said.

The 23-year-old actor said the most intimate aspect of the two-hour play is the set, most of which is being built by the director.

“I’m trying to make [the set] as realistic as possible,” Riggleman said. “I’m not an artist — I’m experimenting with trial and error.”

Even though he wants to engage the audience with the wooden-bar environment in which the play is set, he said, he is more concerned with the script’s dialogue and dialect.

“We do enough with the set and costumes to add to the words,” he said. “But they shouldn’t replace the words.”

The show’s 11-member cast has been working with a dialect coach during rehearsals to make the play more genuine.

De Luca, who plays Pegeen Mike in the production, said it was easy to get into character because of similar characteristics between the two, such as their age and their high level of independence.

Because Playboy of the Western World has been around for more than a century, many intellectuals have found hidden meanings in the play’s content, such as the tensions between tragedy and comedy. But Riggleman doesn’t think the playwright wrote the script with any grand motives.

“[The play] does have a message, but I don’t think Synge had that in mind when he wrote it,” Riggleman said. “It’s there, but he was just trying to portray a set of people.”

While De Luca said she thinks the play is about being honest about what you believe, and she also believes the audience will be affected.

“The community members won’t be shocked,” she said. “But they will be surprised.”


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