note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Travel brochures paint Leenane, Ireland, as a picturesque, Old World, bucolic, fishing town - a beautiful, verdant ravine or valley nestled near the water, lost in time.
In his famous Leenane Trilogy, Anglo-Irish award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh hones in on the life and times of fictional Leenane residents, painting a gloomier, darker, deeper portrait, rife with suicide and murder. Son of an Irish immigrant construction worker dad and housekeeper mother, McDonagh is a prolific playwright with an artistic flair. Although he lived in London, McDonagh spent summers in Ireland.
In McDonagh’s Leenane, it’s hailed as “rapidly becoming murder capital of the world;” or as naive parish priest Father Welsh says in “The Lonesome West,” “It’s the place where God has no jurisdiction”.
The same dark element invades the other two gruesome plays in the trilogy, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” and “A Skull in Connemara,” another creepy story tinged with noir humor. McDonagh’s bittersweet tale of patricide, potential fratricide, suicides and unsolved murders, “The Lonesome West,” is the third installment, all written in 1996 and 1997.
The prolific young writer (McDonagh currently is 42) achieved equal renown with his Aran Islands Trilogy’s eerie masterpieces: “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” and lesser-known “The Banshees of Inisheer”. His plays-movies, “In Bruges” and “The Pillowman,” earned additional awards.
Nobody acts, produces, and directs McDonagh’s works more masterfully than an Irish cast and director - in this case, Colin Hamell and his Tir Na Theatre, who’s dedicated to bringing Irish theater to his now-hometown of Boston. In “The Lonesome West,” (appearing through June 3 at the Davis Square Theatre, Somerville), Hamell wisely sought out brilliant Irish-born director-Sugan Theatre Artistic Director, Carmel O’Reilly, Irish actors Derry Woodhouse and Billy Meleady, all who previously teamed up successfully with Tir Na in other productions. Pretty, Irish-born, New Yorker Lisa O’Brien captivates as flirty, foul-mouthed Mary “Girleen” Kelleher, who likes kind, self-effacing Father Welsh, and encourages him, despite his low self-esteem and feelings of failure. “I’m a terrible priest with a terrible parish,” he laments With J. Michael Griggs’ grimy set, John R. Malinowski’s lighting and Ireland’s perennial rains splashing in the background, O’Reilly spotlights these four characters.
As Father Welsh, Derry Woodhouse poignantly adds humanity, saintliness, patience, and a sincere desire to change his evil parishioners, especially feuding brothers, Valene (Meleady) and Coleman Connor, (Hamell), who’d just as soon kill each other but can’t live without each other - even if only to agitate.
Welsh desperately tries to be a go-between the brothers, whose dad recently died in a shooting accident. Coleman claims his gun accidentally fired when he tripped, blowing his father’s head off, and Valene swears to it.
Valene also claims everything in the house - and also the land - belongs to him, and he marks everything with a huge black “V” to prove it. He has a penchant for buying and collecting figurines of madonnas and saints, which he proudly displays and labels with those detestable Vs. Although his dad is barely settled in his grave, Valene bought himself a bright orange stove, a new, large pot, and several more religious figurines.
Whenever the brothers tussle, whether it’s over a small bag of “crisps,” Valene’s private stash of poteen, (whisky illegally procured to avoid paying taxes on it), or more important matters, such as Valene’s sole inheritance, at the slightest whim, they punch and whack each other, wrestling and grappling on the floor, wielding a gun and knife. Several times, in fact. ‘Tis a sorry sight, indeed.
When a kindhearted fellow commits suicide by drowning, Father Welsh (who has taken to drink) asks the Connor brothers to help drag the corpse out of the water, to be buried. Downcast, Father Welsh tells the brothers he feels ineffective. Val cruelly retorts, “You’re the laughingstock of the community.”
The play starts innocently, its pathos escalating rapidly, with adrenaline-rushing surprises. McDonagh’s tale is so engaging, it must be seen to experience its volatile, ironic impact.
BOX INFO: Two-act tragicomedy, written by Martin McDonagh, appearing with Tir Na Theatre to June 3, Wednesdays-Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2,8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Davis Square Theatre, 255 Elm St., Somerville. Tickets: $28; students, seniors, $18. Visit www.tirnatheatre.org/.