Playboy of the West Philly World

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When the Abbey Theatre first staged The Playboy of the Western World in 1907, its Dublin audience rioted. Similar eruptions greeted its first performances in America. Since then, J.M. Synge’s groundbreaking play about the arrival of a mysterious stranger in western Ireland who claims to have killed his father has become a classic of Irish theater. As part of a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Abbey’s founding by William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, the Abbey will bring its production of Playboy to the Annenberg Center from October 12 through October 17.

On Friday, October 15, the audience can whet its appetite for drama with a buffet dinner and a lecture on Synge, James Joyce, and Bram Stoker by Dr. Michael J. Barsanti Gr’02, associate director of the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. (The Rosenbach’s collection includes the original manuscript of Joyce’s Ulysses, as well as some of Stoker’s notes for Dracula, written on stationery from the old Stratford Hotel during a visit to Philadelphia.) 

This year—specifically June 16—also marked the 100th anniversary of “Bloomsday,” the date on which Ulysses is set, which not-so-coincidentally was the day of Joyce’s first date with the woman who would eventually become his wife, Nora Barnacle. A display of exhibition panels relating to Joyce and the Bloomsday centennial, developed by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, will grace the Annenberg’s lobby. Barsanti, who had worked on that exhibition last fall, was delighted to find that the exhibition would be coming to the Annenberg along with the Abbey and its Playboy.

“1904 marks a really interesting date in Irish cultural history,” notes Barsanti. “It was the year of Joyce’s emigration from Ireland and the opening date of Ulysses, and also the founding of the Abbey Theatre. People like Synge and Joyce wanted to use culture as a way of establishing Irish identity. This play was a fruition of that.” —S.H.

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