Who wants to play with fire?

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I was once approached by someone who had the idea of presenting a production of J.M. Synge’s play –Playboy of the Western World, set in an African community. We were linked up by a mutual acquaintance who felt I had a network of contacts that could bring the project to fruition.

The Playboy of the Western World is a masterpiece of early 20th century Irish drama. Set in a remote rural location, a young man appears in a pub, claiming to be on the run after having murdered his father.

The pub regulars appear to be impressed by the young man’s story. He even attracts the romantic attention of the pub owner’s bar maid daughter. He basks in the glow of this newly acquired anti-heroic status, then suddenly the tables are turned and his wounded father shows up in the pub, ready to assert patriarchal authority on his son.

The young man feels compelled to live up to his new image as a hero and attempts to finish off the patricidal deed in the pub, in the presence of his admirers. Confronted by the ghastliness of the situation, all the observers change their minds about what he has done. None of them wants to be associated with a murderer.

I was impressed by the power of Synge’s prowess as a dramatist, but I was curious about the intentions of the aspiring producer who wanted to set the play in Africa. I asked a simple question about the assumptions he could have been making about African cultural dynamics. He wasn’t able to give me a coherent response, so our discussions went no further.