Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Lonesome West"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Joe Coyne

"The Lonesome West"

Playwright Martin McDonagh
Director Carmel O'Reilly

Sugan Theater's production of "The Lonesome West" was funny, dark and immensely enjoyable. This is the final installment in a trilogy written by Martin McDonagh starting with "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" all of which take place in the small town in the West of Ireland. Bloody bodies accumulate as the series goes on and this installment adds three more in fact, many more in desire.

This is the very black comedy of two brothers, Valene and Coleman, fighting over a lost reason to go on living. With the death of their father of a gunshot and the inheritance settled, Valene has taken possession of all things and expands his collection of religious figurines writing his name on each one. It is a sparkling performance by Billy Meleady, he never stops giving the impression of movement, when with Valene there is only motion. Climbing on a small stool to check and place the figurines on the mantle, taunting his brother on some minor aspect of the days events, Mr. Meleady bobs and nods with body english (or should it be irish), his hand movements choreographed, flashing his aged teeth. I have been a fan of his since his casting in Coner McPerson's "The Weir" at the New Repertory Theatre.

Colin Hamell who was in the same production of "The Weir" plays Coleman, the brother who is now living off the crumbs because of a moment of anger when his now deceased father described Coleman's hair like that of a drunken child. These brothers each know the other's raw spots and with ease needle the lesions endlessly, finding "life" in the eruption of massive disputes. Whether destroying bags of potato chips, a prized stove or each other, each battle is elevated to a death struggle. Why no one pulls the trigger may be the realization that if one is killed off, the game is over.

You don't like these brothers with their personally repugnant behavior, and their self absorption. They are acknowledged in the odd town to be the Kings of the Odd. These two are losers concerned with issues no more important than their chips. There is no difference between them. They are in argument with their lives, not each other.

Father Welsh, a reoccurring character in the trilogy, hangs his soul on the belief that the two brothers can be reconciled and through that process gain salvation. The weak Father trips and falls badly implementing this plan during another of his crisis of faith.

The darkness culminates in a scene where with the blessed letter from Father Welsh on the wall, the brothers apologize for harmful things they have done to each other in the past with hardly a sincere act of contrition. Spitting in the eye, piss in the lager, throwing away a favorite toy, trashing Spiderman comics, not passing along a message from a girl, chopping the ears off a dog. At each of these tellings, there is a stepping back, a statement of sorrow for the action and such rejoicing within for the memories it revives. They cannot learn to co-exist let alone share.

These events ricocheting off the walls, give us a richness of observation but with very little understanding of what McDonagh may be trying to tell us.

Nothing is one answer: Relationships are for food and drink: anger is ever present. People vent, they cheat, they steal, they kill or they want to.

Another possibility is an historic tale: take the chips as the Irish lifeline - potatoes - now devoid of all nourishment stuck in a culture depleted by its religious inanities propped by its whiskey priests. A people going nowhere,

Perhaps there is something else. McDonagh spreads rich illusions about with as little substance as these crisps yet whetting our appetite for clarity. He brings in sexual identify, possessiveness, sex, phony empathy, specific food products, movies, television shows, suicide, religious symbols, women as whores, fitting in. But it is an entropy where something eventually does happen.

If McDonagh is a plastic Paddy from London (some critic's view) and has no insight into the darkness of his character's lives, he at least first succeeds with humor. This is a very funny play. Within his craft McDonagh adds so much with his mention of side alleys: the girl from Norway with no lips, the father who screamed at nuns, the girls under-12 competition replete with reconstructive surgery, the Red Cross advertisement with a phony no arms and no legs baby.

With his dialogue, characters and situation he catches us. The appearance is that there is less going on than meets the eye: like flying a kite without string. There is death all around and you escape it if you can. As long as you are alive you have the possibility to be happy. This advice from the whiskey priest. This snippet may be what McDonagh is arguing for. Amid the weirdness, the oddity, the comedy there is this possibility.


It took some very hard listening to pick up the Irish accents. The dialect coach may have spent more time going for accuracy than for understandability.

Also of some interest was the post discussion talk by three area professors who have included the play (or the playwright) in their syllabus of study. They too were searching for meaning in trace portions of the play. In general they saw it as a famine.

Joe Coyne

"The Lonesome West" (1 - 24 November)
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 497-5134

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide