Irish actor Brendan Conroy has the ability to hold an audience spellbound as he interprets J.M. Synge’s play “The Aran Islands” in his one-man show adapted and directed by Joe O’Byrne at the Irish Repertory Theatre. He creates an atmosphere that elicits the color in Synge’s writing as he describes the geographical area and spins the stories that Synge discovered.
The time is around 1900, and Conroy early on describes approaching the islands off the west coast of Galway, Ireland. There is a forbidding rocky, desolate look at first, and Conroy colorfully captures the initial feelings.
But as the two-act show progresses, the actor plunges deeper and deeper into island existence as conveyed by the author. There are a host of individual stories recollected. Some are droll, some are sad.
One islander, for example, observes that any man who doesn’t get married is an old jackass.
Through it all, Conroy modulates his voice to express reactions, and he also strides or strolls about the stage under O’Byrne’s direction to provide much-needed movement to keep the performance from becoming static.
It is mainly the actor’s gift for mellifluously immersing himself in Synge’s portrait of the islands and their people that commands attention and does justice to the play.
At the end of the first act a woman sitting next to me leaned over and said, “I grew up just across from there,” indicating that the play had special meaning for her. I have never visited the islands, but I came away with an intimate picture of what life would have been like in that period of history. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Reviewed June 21, 2017.