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The Pagans

Presented by and at Abingdon Theatre Company, 312 W. 36 St., NYC, March 3-21.

"The Pagans" is an absorbing but overplotted offering depicting the now familiar world of the dysfunctional Irish peasant, replete with abuse, drunkenness, and outrageous family strife.

Almost inverse to Brian Friel's contemporary classic "Philadelphia, Here I Come!," Ann Noble's play turns on the reappearance of Michael to his family from the shores of America. Now a successful "consultant," Michael arrives with his stunning blonde wife, Anna, much to the quiet chagrin of his brood. His father, Thomas, is angry that Michael took some of his money when he left. His mother, Margaret, rues that Michael has not kept in touch. His brother, Tadhg, has degenerated into a kind of rural sociopath. And his ex-girlfriend, Danaan, has ended up with an illegitimate son who belongs to Tadhg, or so we are led to believe.

From this interesting setup, all sorts of things happen, some genuine, some incredible, some predictable. Noble can clearly write a stirring, emotional scene and sometimes rivets the audience with rapid-fire, vicious exchanges. As a whole, however, the play suffers from an excessive amount of contrivance. With the exception of Michael, a rather nuanced, vivid presence, characterization is rather standard, playing off dated Irish stereotypes that so many playwrights (including such acclaimed ones as Martin McDonagh) strangely still rely on.

Though director Steven Hollis' cast doesn't always listen, there are many solid performances. Frank Anderson is consistently engaging as Thomas, Steven Rishard is appropriately mournful as Michael, and Nora Chester is a warm presence as Margaret. Susanne Marley is memorable as a half-crazed aunt named Frances. Christopher Drescher is a menacing Tadhg. Victoria Adams is given little material to work with, but manages to create a relatively full character as Anna.

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