Two Homicidal Brothers, a Drunken Priest, Poteen, Dead Bodies …
By Marianne MacDonald
It’s fortunate that Martin McDonagh chose to become a playwright and not a travel writer, otherwise he would have singlehandedly killed the Irish tourist trade. Like the other two plays in his trilogy, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “A Skull in Connemara,” his work, “The Lonesome West,” now playing in a Lantern Theater production at St. Stephen’s Theater in Philadelphia, is set in a small town called Leenane on the west coast of Ireland.
His is not the romantic Irish vision of quaint thatched cottages, colorful town characters, and cute colleens. In his portrayal of small-town Ireland, McDonagh is merciless, mining the pettiness, gossip-mongering, back-stabbing and barely contained malevolence characteristic of rural places everywhere, where a tiny population becomes too close, too familiar, and too stifled to grow emotionally. This is not the Ireland of the travel poster. It is a vicious black comedy that makes light of the dark.
“The Lonesome West” opens with a bang–a front door is slammed by Coleman, played by long-time local actor Anthony Lawton, who is returning from the funeral of his father, whom he has shot and killed “accidentally.” In fact, homicide, fratricide, suicide, even mutilation are practically local sports in Leenane. Coleman is at perpetually war with his brother, Valene (Ross Beschler), over everything from poteen, bags of crisps, Valene’s holy statue collection, and a laundry list of grievances that includes Valene’s prize possession, the felt tip marker which he uses to engrave all of his household possession with a large V.
Wandering through the town is the local parish priest, Father Welsh (Luigi Sottile), a lost soul with a penchant for a drop of drink, who attempts to calm the bachelor brothers while decrying the state of his parish which he calls “the murder capital of feckin’ Europe.” Then there is Girleen (Genevieve Perrier), a flirt who delivers quick comebacks to all in her path along with the mail and bottles of poteen she has nabbed from her own Da. She is also the conduit for the currents of unspoken emotions and heartaches of the town’s lonely souls, two of whom come to a tragic end.
Having spent some time in a small town in the west of Ireland, I recognized some of the citizens of Leenane. McDonagh may have turned them into cartoons, but every small town has them and you will find them both funny and disturbing.
The play, directed by David O’Connor, is not for the faint of heart nor the sentimental. It dares to ask us the tough questions: “Is there such a thing as redemption? Can we forgive our childhood mistakes? Can siblings live together in harmony? Who drank my poteen?”
Be prepared for more than a biteen of raw anger and violence. But also be prepared to laugh at one moment and gasp at the very next.
“The Lonesome West” runs through October 14 (extended from October 6). There are other events being run in conjunction with the play, including a Meet the Artists post-show discussion to be held this Wednesday, September 26 after the matinee show. For information go to www.lanterntheater.org.
Marianne MacDonald is host of “Come West Along the Road,” on WTMR-AM 800 every Sunday.