In Purple Dust, Sean O’Casey returned to certain stylistic aspects of his earlier plays, including the mixture of moving poetry with extravagant comedy. Although the occasional poetic passages of the Irish workmen concerning their noble past are indeed beautiful, the emphasis of the play is on the profoundly comic situation of two stuffy Englishmen trying to adjust to the rigors of the bucolic life. O’Casey, as usual, is extolling the hardy Irish, and disapproves of those who cling to the past without partly looking to the future. When people venerate the past without a true sense of understanding and appreciation, as do Poges and Stoke, the result is especially disastrous.
Purple Dust may be O’Casey’s funniest play. He begins with a potentially hilarious situation, the attempt by two Englishmen to restore an ancient, ramshackle Tudor mansion in the Irish countryside in the face of opposition from the local citizenry. To this beginning he adds a cast of broad, colorful, and sometimes poetic types, and utilizing a thin but completely functional plot line, presents a sequence of zany scenes that would have fit nicely into a Marx Brothers film.
Purple Dust has, however, some serious content. Eschewing the kind of abstract symbolism and forced rhetoric that damaged such earlier idea plays as Within the Gates (1933), The Star Turns Red (1940), and Oak Leaves and Lavender: Or, A World on Wallpaper (1946), O’Casey mixes comedy with message so adroitly in Purple Dust that he is able to present some strident satire and provocative ideas without losing any humor or theatrical effectiveness.
Cyril Poges and Basil Stoke are two brilliant comedic and satiric creations. Poges is the self-made man, the blustery pragmatic tycoon...
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