by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea opened its 46th season with The Lonesome West on the Studio Stage. The production will run through September 10 at 106 Sixth Street in Jacksonville Beach. For reservations and information, call 904-249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org
This play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh opened in New York in 1999 and was nominated for a Tony for Best Play. Mr. McDonagh is no stranger to Jacksonville audiences as two of his previous works have been done here with productions of The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Pillowman. Movie fans may have seen In Bruges, one of his screen plays that received good reviews.
If you like cutting edge plays or Quentin Tarantino’s movies, you will love this play. It is very funny, but as Director Tom Trauger writes in his director’s notes, it is very dark, dark humor. While there are plenty of laughs, there is a profusion of physical violence, profanity by all the characters including a priest, and a variety of sexual references. Have we whetted your appetite? Then read on.
The action takes place in the living room of a modest cottage in the fictitious town of Leenane, in the West of Ireland (hence the title). The set designed by Ann Roberts is neat as a pin, with hardwood flooring, a brick fireplace, and wooden furniture with clean lines; a gun and several small crosses hang on the walls.
The location also explains the Irish brogue in the script. You would have to be an Irishman to know if it is totally accurate for this rugged area, but since Director Trauger used the talents of local actor and real Irishman Derek Coghlan as a coach, it’s likely right on the money. This also presents a challenge for American audiences and you have to listen very carefully to catch everything. A small glossary in the program would have helped, as you sort of have to figure out what a vol au vent is, as well as poteen. Here is a little help. The first is a puff pastry canapé, the second is a type of traditional but illicit whiskey distilled from potatoes.
This is the story of two brothers who fight about anything and everything and argue constantly. The play opens just after their father has died in a shooting accident. Valene Connor (Jason Collins) is obsessed with owning things and collecting religious figurines. He inherited all of the father’s possessions and has placed a ‘V’ on everything in the house, and we do mean EVERTHING, including the walls, the floor, the doors and the chairs. Coleman Connor (Kevin Roberts) is only interested in drinking, eating, and going to funerals for the free food. Both these actors give tour-de-force performances with an emphasis on broad humorous portrayals, using fantastic body language and incredible facial gestures. Their fight scenes are frighteningly real as well. Is there a happy ending? Well, we will let you discover that for yourself.
The local parish priest, Father Welsh (Joe Walz) attempts to bring about a reconciliation of the brothers. But Welsh has problems of his own trying to rehabilitate a small village known for two murders and a suicide, while controlling his desire to drink. Welsh is the butt of jokes by the village and the brothers, who always mispronounce his name.
The final character is an attractive and innocent teenager, with a potty mouth, Girleen (Kasi Walters) who makes home deliveries of the mail and the bottles of poteen, and has a schoolgirl crush on Father Welsh.
All the action takes place in the Connor home except for one short scene on a bench on a lake. Girleen is trying to console the depressed priest whose hands are bandaged due to self-mutilation at the Connor home. This is an intriguing scene but Girleen and the priest kept it so intimate that what they were saying to each other could barely be heard by us while sitting in the second row. Turning up the volume and slowing down the dialogue would be helpful.
We think there is a shortage of religious figurines (especially of The Virgin Mary), as the props gang, Director Trauger and Stephanie Natale Frus (who is also the stage manager), have cornered the local market on such items. There are 36 (count them if you can) such small statues in the second act, most of which get broken each night. (We told you this play is violent!!)
This is one of those plays that you either love or hate, and we heard both comments as we exited the theatre. We also heard some comments about difficulty with understanding the accents, but the audience members had no problems grasping the offbeat humor.
The costumes, coordinated by Sarah Marino, consisted of many personal clothing items of the cast, with the exception of the priest’s frock. The clothing choices, such as a heathered jacket and argyle vest, added to the Gaelic effect.
Director Trauger’s director notes conclude with remarks that this play gives the audience a peek into their own family life dysfunctions. Gads!! We hope there are no families like that in Jacksonville, but one never knows do one? You won’t walk out of this one singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” but you may come away with new insights into what holds families together.
THE LONESOME WEST
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM