Theater archives

John Millington Synge’s “The Aran Islands” Becomes a Sluggish One-Man Show


Lovers of Irish literature will best appreciate The Aran Islands, a new one-man show distilled from the journals that John Millington Synge composed about his several summers spent in the late 1890s among those misty, mystical isles situated off the western coast of Ireland.

Brendan Conroy, a veteran Irish actor with weathered features and a measured delivery, intones Synge’s often lyrical observations regarding the windswept landscapes, warm hearthsides, and offbeat Gaelic characters that the writer encountered there. Supernatural yarns about fairies and holy wells commingle with folksy accounts of evictions, sudden death, and the way drinking poteen “brings a shock of joy to the blood.” One semi-pagan story about a faithful wife recalls Cymbeline, while another tale concerning a parricide hidden by some natives from the police appears to be the kernel from which Synge’s great The Playboy of the Western World later flowered.

Synge’s travelogue-like text hasn’t been adapted into a full-blown drama so much as whittled back into a hundred-minute piece of narrative by Joe O’Byrne, who directed and also lit this intimate event, which Conroy delivers in the 65-seat studio space of the Irish Repertory Theatre. Fisherman’s nets and tackle comprise the duskily illuminated setting for Conroy’s performance, which, ultimately, is not entirely compelling. His blue eyes occasionally blaze with conviction as he flings his arms out to emphasize these tales, yet the actor’s vocal range is not especially varied, and the monologue turns a mite tedious before he concludes it.

The Aran Islands
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through August 6