Declan Kiberd reminds us why Synge's Playboy of the Western World, now a cozy mainstay of the repertory, was once the most shocking play Ireland had ever seen:
Ireland in 1907 saw itself as ready for self-rule and it expected its artists to promote the image of a steady, sober, self-reliant people. Instead, with The Playboy of the Western World, Synge gave them a play in which a village loon splits his father's head open with a spade, runs away, tells people he "killed his da" and is promptly installed as a hero by excitable women and drunken men. Worse still, this drama was staged not in some backstreet art-house, but at the Abbey, Ireland's national theatre, one of whose mission statements was to show that Ireland was not the home of buffoonery but of an ancient idealism....Definitely makes my list of All-Time Best Opening Nights Ever.
The Irish Times's critic identified one cause of the trouble: "It is as if a mirror were held up to our faces and we found ourselves hideous. We fear to face the thing. We scream."