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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Synge "Riders to the Sea"

I saw the Druid Theater's Synge cycle 4 years ago. John Millington Synge is interesting in that he is considered a major playwright by many, based on his writing only six plays. "Riders to the Sea" is bleak. It doesn't really hold together for me. I found the internal mechanism of time broken in the play when I saw it, and again when I read it today.

Here's my problem with it: Bartley rides off on the red mare. Bartley is killed when thrown from the horse into the sea. Within a couple minutes Bartley's body is brought to his mother's house. It's one thing to ask audiences to suspend disbelief. It's quite another to ask audiences to suspend the reality of time, especially in so brief a piece as this one act is. That all this happens on the same day Bartley's brother's clothing, stripped from his (Michael -- who never appears in the play) sea-ravaged body.

Anyway, the play doesn't work for me.

Plays read so far from "Chief Contemporary Dramtists" (Cambridge, Mass 1915):

"The Rising of the Moon" by Lady Gregory

"Lady Windemere's Fan"
by Oscar Wilde

"The Hourglass"
by William Butler Yeats

"Riders to the Sea"
J. M. Synge

-- Uke Jackson


  1. I disagree with you -- I think the play is really powerful. When the mother finally gives up her struggle with Nature, it is amazing. More importantly, take a look at the Aran Island landscape: The sea and cliffs running along it are a very short distance from the hut where the play is set. The play has been compared to a Greek tragedy, and like a Greek tragedy there is a sense of compressed time -- thus, the washing up of the sons clothing coinciding with the last son's departure.Anyway, it's OK not to like it, of course, but I think the time issue isn't a big deal.

  2. I had the same problem with this play when I saw the Druid Theater production. I may have a problem with Synge, as the entire thing -- which I saw in one day/night -- was grueling. Part of it was the theater's sound system, which was emitting a whistle up where I sat. However, they fixed that after the second play (and dozens of people stomping down to the box office to complain).

    The "comedies" just weren't that funny. I would even go so far as to say they tended to belittle the people being protrayed. (I know. This was a common crit of Synge at the time he was alive. However, the fact that it was commonly thought to be so doesn't make it untrue.)

    In any case, "Riders to the Sea" seems to require the audience accept a lot. The death of one son on the day the other son's remains are discovered/revealed to the survivors is tragic and dramatic, in the Greek style. The old men charging up the hill with his body on a plank, after fishing him from the sea in record time, seems overdone to me.

    Anyway, I sat through ten 10-minute plays by the same author at the local playhouse this past weekend. Maybe I've just got it in for short plays this week.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Scott! It's good to know someone is reading. Much appreciated.