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Wordshed Productions Review: The Lonesome West Plays Murder and Sibling Rivalry for Laughs

April 1, 2004 - Chapel Hill, NC:


Whenever reviewers describe The Lonesome West by hot new Irish playwright Martin McDonagh as a dark comedy, it is a masterpiece of understatement. This third installment in McDonagh's critically acclaimed "Connemara Trilogy" is as dark as midnight in a coalmine on Pluto! It is also as funny, in its own unique bizarre grotesque way, as the proverbial barrel of monkeys if the monkeys come from the murderous species that populate The Planet of the Apes!

The Beauty Queen of Leenane (1996) and A Skull in Connemara and The Lonesome West (both 1997) are all set in the remote small town of Leenane, which is located in Connemara in County Galway, north of the Aran Islands. The poor residents of Leenane lead a pinched hardscrabble existence; and, perhaps, there is something in the local water supply or more likely in the pints dispensed from the local beer taps that feeds a raging inner fire that seems to be turning tiny Leenane into the murder and suicide capital of Ireland.

Whatever that special something is, its lethal results are abundantly evident in Martin McDonagh's devilishly funny dark comedies of dysfunctional families who all-too-frequently resort to fisticuffs or skillets or firearms to settle even minor differences of opinion. For example, a sensitive son's asking his father "How do you like my new haircut?" can set off a frightening chain of events that ends with the indignant son removing the family rifle from its honored place about the mantle and blowing his father's head off.

The Lonesome West, as brilliantly staged by Wordshed Productions' founding artistic director Matthew Spangler and luminously performed by an all-star cast, brings Martin McDonagh's merry miscreants so completely to life that McDonagh's macabre humor has the show's audiences roaring. This Grade A+ must-see comedy is sure to turn up on some Triangle critic's Top 10 list.

Director Matt Spangler and assistant director Georgia Martin splendidly orchestrate the action, both in the scenes where fierce fraternal verbal jousting rapidly deteriorates into punches thrown and in the wistful scene in a pub in which a rueful Father Welsh (John Murphy) sadly muses on his failure to reduce or even slow the rising body count among his belligerent parishioners.

As a performer, Spangler is superb as Valene Connor, the miserly squinty-eyed younger brother who sees his older brother, Coleman (Chris Chiron), kill their father then blackmails Coleman into signing his half of the inheritance over to Valene, in exchange for Valene's vouching for an accidental-shooting scenario.

Chiron is likewise excellent as the slow-witted, but sensitive Coleman. John Murphy is terrific as the increasingly despondent Father Welsh; and SaRAH! Kocz is charming as flirtatious Girleen Kelleher, who loves to tease Father Welsh when he drinks too deeply from the well of self-pity.

Set designer Rob Hamilton, lighting designer Steve Dubay, and costume designer Grier Coleman also help the Wordshed Productions' presentation of The Lonesome West be all that it can be, comically and dramatically. Hamilton creates a superbly detailed version of the kitchen and living room of the Connor home, Dubay lights the proceedings skillfully, and Coleman outfits the cast in a handsome array of contemporary Irish rural wear.

Louise Kidney and Georgia Martin also do an excellent job in coaching convincing Irish dialects from all four cast members. And sound designer Adam Pruitt's soundscape for The Lonesome West likewise adds to the production's authenticity.

Second Opinion: The March 31 Front Row Center review by theater critic Alan R. Hall: http://hometown.aol.com/theonlyarhall/reviews.html; the March 31 The Independent Weekly review by chief contributor Byron Woods: http://indyweek.com/durham/current/woods.html [inactive 4/04] (scroll down - Woods' Lonesome West review is the 2nd from the bottom of this file...); and the March 31 News & Observer review by correspondent Adam Sobsey: http://www.triangle.com/calendar/theaterreview/story/1103638p-7190365c.html [inactive 8/04].

Wordshed Productions presents The Lonesome West Thursday-Saturday, April 1-3 and 8-10, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 4, at 2 p.m. in the Studio 6 Theatre in Swain Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $12 ($5 students and $10 seniors and UNC staff and employees). 919/969-7121. Wordshed Productions: http://www.unc.edu/wordshed/index.htm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=7303. Parking Alert: The parking lots adjacent to Swain Hall are now paid parking lots.