'Lonesome West' looks at latter-day Cain and Abel from the Emerald Isle
By MICHAEL SMITH World Entertainment Writer 02/28/01Ah, Ireland. So many shades of green color the rolling hills and farms of the Emerald Isle. Travelers float along the Shannon River, hugging the rugged coastline. This land is home to Blarney Castle, where visitors can kiss a stone and receive the gift of eloquence.
And it's home to the Irish Republican Army. Oh well, so much for our friendly little tale. It's this kind of contrast that Martin McDonagh has sought in his plays, such as "The Lonesome West," which debuts Thursday. He explodes the myths many of us have, making his Eire the kind of place where one enters a quaint pub for a pint and finds the Lucky Charms guy inside getting his arse kicked but good.
It's much the same way that the 30-year-old author views playwrighting, working within traditional conventions but, as he has said, with the wish that audience members leave a theater "with the same feeling that you get after a really good rock concert." "You don't want to talk about it, you just let it buzz into you. I can't stand people analyzing things. A play should be a thrill like a fantastic rollercoaster."
Scott Heberling, a co-founder of the troupe and director of the Theater Club production, couldn't agree more.
"I'd like people to laugh, be scared at times, be taken aback and leave the theater saying, `Wow,' " Heberling said. "I'd really like people to enjoy it because it's funny as hell, the characters are so well-written, the interaction is hysterical, often intense and very quick-paced. It moves. It's brutal. The violence is so big and exaggerated."
The one thing that the director has had to rein in with his two leads, Derek Adams and George Nelson, is the thick Irish dialect they'll use. Don't come to the theater expecting some kind of lyrical, sing-songy treatment of the language.
"That's another myth," Heberling said. "It's a flat language and almost incomprehensible at times, (especially if) they tend to mumble a lot. The guys were so into doing these dialects in rehearsal, and then they would go home and listen to Galway radio on the Internet, listening to Irish people speak.
"They were doing it so well that I had to pull them back. I couldn't understand a damn word they were saying."
The principals in "The Lonesome West" are Coleman Connor (Adams) and Valene Connor (Nelson), a pair of battling brothers in their 40s, who live in Leenane, Galway, a rural part of Ireland. We meet them as they return from their father's funeral.
But there's a real question as to whether one of the brothers might have killed him -- not that they ever expressed any warm sentiments toward their papa, but these two have spent their lives destroying everything they've ever loved.
Their petty bickering and mutual abuse has driven the once idealistic Father Welsh (Robert Frayser) to unholy despair and to drink. He's sworn to save the brothers' souls, but he's waging his own battle against giving in to the advances of the seductive Girleen (newcomer Holly Roberts), a 17-year-old bootlegger.
Murder and mayhem are frequent enough occurrences that the Connors can handle, but woe to the brother who waters down the poteen, a potato-based whiskey, or who filches a potato chip. In the home they share, they are a penned-up Cain and Abel/"Odd Couple" locked in an unforgiving state of hostility.
The play features plenty of drunkenness, almost constant profanity, violent grappling and the destruction of many religious figurines. About 500 little saints, some plastic and some ceramic, were purchased for the play because the cast destroys about 50 per performance.
"Yes, we're having a lot of fun with this one," Heberling said, laughing. "And yes, this is mature subject matter."
"I see it as McDonagh looking at rural Ireland in much the way that David Mamet looks at America -- with a very harsh, heightened view," Heberling said. "McDonagh has said that his three big influences are Mamet, Sam Shepherd and Harold Pinter. If you watch the play and pay attention, you'll see something from all three of them."
"The Lonesome West" is part of McDonagh's "Leenane Trilogy," a soon-to-be completed three-play master work that began with "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," which took Broadway by surprise and won four Tony Awards in 1998. "The Lonesome West" was nominated for five Tonys in 1999, and "A Skull in Connemara" will open soon in New York.
Michael Smith, World entertainment writer, can be reached at 581-8474 or via e-mail at email@example.com.