The Misfits review: An intimate character study in a stripped-back Wild West

Dublin Theatre Festival: Annie Ryan has sensitively adapted Arthur Miller’s drama


Smock Alley
★ ★ ★ ★
Strip away the huge Nevada skies from John Huston's film of Arthur Miller's The Misfits and it becomes an intimate study of character, of three men trying to make sense of who they are; more specifically, what kind of men they are. The director Annie Ryan's sensitive adaptation for Corn Exchange does not try to replicate the celebrated Western imagery of the film in any literal way. It concentrates on the dynamics of relationships, which are thrown into relief by the designer Zia Bergin-Holly's stark setting of wooden pallets and a corrugated metal backdrop. Justine Cooper's choreography and Alma Kelliher's atmospheric sound design conjure the action sequences of rodeo contests and capturing horses with ropes in the desert.

Adapting a novella Miller wrote to coincide with the release of the film in 1961, Ryan turns the focus from the male gaze on the beautiful stranger Roslyn (Aoibhín McGinnity), newly divorced in Reno, to her gaze at them. Developing the character Miller created for Marilyn Munroe, Ryan has rebalanced the gender roles to make them more palatable to our sensibilities. Roslyn, compellingly played by McGinnity, is a catalyst and mirror for the three men as much as a magnetic object of desire. The older cowboy, Gay (Aidan Kelly), the reckless rodeo rider, Perce (Emmet Byrne), and the air-force veteran turned car mechanic, Guido (Patrick Ryan), are all drawn to her, while the bartender Isabelle (Úna Kavanagh) observes ruefully from a distance.

For all their proud insistence on their independence – being “misfits” means not taking wages from anyone else – each of the men has moments of self-doubt, revealing himself to be lost, in one way or another. Each has suffered a personal loss – a wife, a father, a marriage – and the world around them is changing fast. While Roslyn accepts that nothing endures, saying “Maybe all there really is is what happens next, just the next thing,” the three men are struggling to let go of an idea of Wild West past, and of their place in the world.

Gay’s insistence that their hunting of mustang horses to sell for dog food is “man’s work” doesn’t stand up to Roslyn’s questioning, but it’s what he knows how to do. Although there are few subtexts here, the portrayal of the myth of rugged cowboy freedom is all too recognisable and, in these fine ensemble performances, is sympathetic and resonant.


Runs until October 7th