As the sea pounds along a stark, stony landscape, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre transports you to an alien fragment of the world in John Millington Synge's famed "Riders to the Sea." In a definitive setting by Gianni Downs, you are present at inevitable, tragic events where, due to Sheila McKenna's skillful direction, words have rhythms and tones bordering on singing, like waves on the nearby shore. And when two women keen community sorrow, the combined sound becomes dark melodies whose theme is less like tragedy and more like ritual. The one-act play's brevity may surprise you. It almost seems a documentary, one in which saying more about life and death only prolongs the agony.
With this experience and the full-length The Well of the Saints, the merit of PICT's Synge Cycle -- including productions of all his theater work -- becomes clear. These two and The Playboy of the Western World tell us about people struggling with harsh lives but finding the spirit and will to deal with what little they have.
The Well of the Saints comes across as clever and pointed. In another bleak landscape, the kind of place Beckett knew well ... Estragon and Vladimir looking in vain for hope and escape ... blind Martin and Mary Doul struggle to survive amid townspeople who grudgingly accept them. But when The Saint restores their vision, Martin and Mary discover realities that they had previously escaped by interpreting sounds and smells to their own satisfaction. They welcome a second loss of sight. Synge further probes hypocrisy, another barb like those in Playboy. Here The Saint is anything but, a church-robed man who brooks no denial of an insistence on miracles.
This play's middle part drags on a bit, the points being well made on either end of the story. Yet, admire the spirit and vitality of Kate Young's Mary; Mary may be called ugly, but this woman has grace and a kind of inner beauty which refutes the word. Meanwhile, Michael Providence as The Saint offers a well-tuned portrait of a man who seems kindly until his authority is questioned, and who then turns into a nasty piece of work, confirming the visible world's harshness. Credit director Martin Giles for bringing forth these interpretations.
Through PICT's cycle, we are exposed to personal, revealing perspectives on another culture in another time. Not an academic exercise but an immersion into significant theater. Four more Synge plays will soon unfold.
"Riders to the Sea" and The Well of the Saints continue through Fri., Aug. 17. Charity Randall Theater, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-394-3353 or www.picttheatre.org