John Millington Synge's brief one-act play, "The Shadow of the Glen," deceptive in its simplicity, is being given an exceptionally able performance by director Bart Whiteman's Source theatre company through Dec. 30 at the Washington project for the arts, 1227 G St. N.W.
Whiteman has made solid, professional choices, starting with his decision to concentrate on a worthy representation of this play one rather than the double-bill with a short O'Casey play originally announced. It is wiser to do one play well than two plays indifferently.
In 1905, it was the first produced of the Synge plays and had been written three years earlier inspired by a story told him by an old Inishmann schanchie, or story-teller.He recognized in the Greek tale, "The Widow of Ephesus.
It's the one about the old husband of a young wife who feigns death to trap hher unfaithfulness to him. A wandering tramp knocks at their cottage door in the lonely, remote countryside, and Nora, the wife, requests that he continue the wake for the corpse while she ventures out to find a young man she's been expecting. She returns shortly with the young man and soon the old "corpse" rises from his bed.
Instead of turning the humorous situation into farce, Synge used it to attack, as his later plays would do at greater length, his own Irish countrymen. The central role is Nora, her helphlessness in a loveless, arranged marriage impelling Synge's sympathy. While the old man and the young lover are more or less stock characters, the tramp is a character of lyrical depth and it is a his offer that frees Nora from her trapped life.
Thus, the play maintains vitality today, becoming yet another statement about women waschattle, for throughout the play, Nora's unease and restlessness motivate her. The freedom of living in ditches under sunshine skies seems to her infinitely preferable to her dark, shadowy existence. Norway's Ibsen had written "A Doll's House" some 20 years earlier.
These points are well grasped by Whiteman and his cast. The assumed Irish accents are superior to the general run and the music of Synge rolls through the players' words. Sharon Elizabeth Doyle indicates the yearnings within Nora, and Al D'Andrea makes an interesting figure of the tramp. With Richard N. Bernstein, the young man, the cast achieves a sense of unity in the small, but highly evocative playing space. It is a brief evening but surely, sturdily accomplished.