Thursday, September 21st, 2017...8:56 pmNoah Fusco

Playing for Laffs: Pegeen’s Preparatory Performance

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As Professor of Theatre Todd Wronski always sez, “The only bad decision is no decision.”

If staging The Playboy of the Western World (or any play) as a comedy, one may have the initial response to look for what’s funny, and stage those as funny, and let the rest sit as one’s initial reaction determined it. The other day in class, as we discussed the opening of Playboy, there was no indication to suggest that it was in any way funny. However, I would argue that from the very beginning, comedy can be brought out to best highlight what to expect.

Pegeen is described as a “wild-looking but fine girl,” (99)which begs the question, what does “wild-looking” mean, and can we get a little joviality out of her appearance? Can we inspire some Falstaffian ruggedness from her? (My mind instantly thinks Anne Baxter in Swamp Water, where she plays a “wild-looking but fine girl”, in my opinion.)

Rather than a sentimental preciousness about Pegeen’s opening lines (as we suggested in class), they can be re-envisioned as a girl both excited and out of her depth. The first line, enunciated thusly:

Pegeen [hunched over, intensely]: Six yards of . . . stuff . . . for to make a [passionately] yellow gown! A pair of lace boots—with lengthy heels on them a-and . . . brassy eyes! [pauses, thinking] A hat is suited for a wedding-day [proudly, without humor, nods at her declaration] A fine tooth comb. [stops writing, says excitedly to herself/audience, shifting into daydream; as she speaks the line, her voice rises in excitement] To be sent with three barrels of porter in Jimmy Farrell’s creel cart on the evening of the coming Fair [realizes she needs to write it down, hurriedly scribbles to catch up as she finishes the sentence aloud] to Mister Michael James Flaherty. [suddenly calm, controlled, ladylike again] With the best compliments of this season: Margaret Flaherty.

I personally adore comedy that revolves around internal tension. Staging Pegeen as I notated shifts the nature of the information from purely expositional to now the conflict between her aspirations for a proper wedding, and the anarchic drive for personal pleasure (always have the Marxes on my mind), which I find greatly amusing, even funny if done just right.

1 Comment

  •   Professor Seiler
    September 25th, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    Great post, Noah. One of the ancillary effects of your upping the ante on Pegeen’s opening comedy is that we also see her vexed relationship with *writing*, which she clearly has not cause to do very often. This effect in turn builds in (or brings out?) an implied tension in the play between written accounts and oral tales–such as, of course, Christy’s own story.

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