Martin McDonagh electrified New York and London theaters in the ’90s with his trilogy of funny, brutal plays set in the remote Irish town of Leenane. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reviews the last one, The Lonesome West, getting its North Texas premiere at Stage West.
- The Dallas Morning News review
- The Theater Jones review
- KERA radio review:
- Expanded online review:
FLOWERS: “What kind of a town is this anyways? Brothers fighting and lasses peddling booze and two murderers on the loose?”
Father Welsh, played by Justin Flowers, is the young priest whose service in the town of Leenane has driven him to drink. You don’t have to know Martin McDonagh’s other plays, like the Tony-nominated The Beauty Queen of Leenane, to recognize Fr. Welsh has cause for despair.
After all, The Lonesome West opens with the Connor brothers, Coleman and Valene, cursing and drinking after their father’s funeral. From there, they get amusingly violent. But although Lonesome West includes a few deaths, some aggressively melted plastic and the shotgun murder of a gas stove, the play feels like a small-caliber version of McDonagh. Still dark, still funny. But not surprising, not sufficiently bleak or powerful.
That’s partly because it’s the Jacob and Esau story again – two brothers battling over their inheritance. Sam Shepard handled the same subject less violently, more provocatively in his play, True West. And in The Pillowman and Beauty Queen, McDonagh’s bitter humor acts like acid cutting through our resistance to the violence. Here, he gets jokey and allusive — putting a shotgun over the mantelpiece, pointedly recalling Anton Chekhov’s famous observation that if you hang a pistol on the wall in the first act, you’d better fire it in the second.
But it’s also true that under director Jim Covault, the Stage West production of Lonesome West opts for humor. And it’s probably not a good idea to aim for a kindler, gentler McDonagh. His humor and power come from his plays’ flinty oppositions and his trapped-in-their-rut characters. Trey Walpole, who plays Coleman, needs to be even more brooding and explosive. Jakie Cabe who plays Valene should be even prissier about his precious collection of little saints figurines. The two need to be petty and ridiculous and truly scary, the kind of people who’d drive a priest to drink — and joke about it. And, of course, we’d laugh.
WALPOLE: “That’s the great thing about being Catholic. So long as you go confessing to it, you can shoot anyone in the head and it doesn’t matter at all.”
That’s Trey Walpole as Coleman, and that’s another thing. This may be the only McDonagh play in which shooting someone in the head really doesn’t seem to matter much. The character responsible barely acknowledges the enormity of his act. Sure, McDonagh deals in oddball, over-the-top violence, but if it’s over-the-top and everyone shrugs, it loses much of its force. The whole shooting thing is a little too much like a comic contrivance, like Quentin Tarantino getting his Irish on.
As I said, funny. But not particularly real.