Friday, November 09, 2018

Brothers Grim: At AstonRep, Martin McDonagh's 'Lonesome West' Conveys Much Through Relative Ugliness -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Lonesome West
by Martin McDonagh
directed by Dana Anderson
AstonRep Theatre Co.
at The Raven Theatre Complex, Chicago
Thru November 18

It’s certainly logical that Irish works of the late 20th century—especially those created before 1998’s Good Friday Agreement brought lasting peace—would focus on “The Troubles,” even if indirectly.

The decades-long conflict in and over Northern Ireland, between British-backed Protestants (and entities representing their interests) and Catholics supporting the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other factions was brutal, bloody and often deadly.

I very much like the films of Irish director Jim Sheridan, including 1993’s In the Name of the Father—about the trial and imprisonment of those wrongly implicated in a 1974 IRA pub bombing in Guildford, England—and even more so, 1997’s The Boxer, likewise starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Illustrating life in Belfast amid the Troubles, the latter film highlights how certain people will resist peace purely out of self-interest, for fear of such progress rendering them personally obsolete.

Photo credit on all: Emily Schwartz
Though Martin McDonagh’s plays often seem like domestic black comedies, with only his The Lieutenant of Inishmore overtly concerning the Troubles, I believe 1997’s The Lonesome West—which I saw Thursday night in a fine production by AstonRep after having seen in it at The Gift in 2010—is also a commentary on the perpetual violence long witnessed in Ireland.

And while The Boxer suggests that some may manipulate tempestuous situations due to ulterior motives, my take on the endless fighting between brothers Coleman and Valene in The Lonesome West is that violent proclivities can be even more feral than deliberate, and may supply one’s only real outlet amid an otherwise languid and lonely existence.

Seeing the play the day news broke about another massacre in America at the hands of a seemingly unhinged lone gunman--this time in Thousand Oaks, CA--I couldn't help but think that long after the Troubles have largely ended, McDonagh's observations about mankind remain all too resonant.

And downright disturbing, even if the play's entertainment value on the surface mitigates some of the grim undercurrents.

It might be hard to believe for patrons not well-versed in McDonagh, but The Lonesome West isn't nearly as darkly embittered as The Beauty Queen of Leenane nor as grisly as The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

I also don't think it's as brilliant as the latter play, or McDonagh's The Pillowman and The Cripple of Inishmaan for that matter. (I also love two of his movies: In Bruges and last year's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.)

But under the direction of Dana Anderson, AstonRep's is a fine rendition of an engaging play at a very reasonable price point.

Robert Tobin--whose work onstage I regularly enjoy--and Dylan Barr play Coleman and Valene, respectively.

As the play opens, Father Welsh (frequently called Father Walsh and played nicely by Marc Tacderas) has joined the brothers at their ramshackle home in the Western Ireland town of Leenane.

That same day, Coleman and Valene buried their father, who let's just say didn't die of natural causes.

Issues regarding the dad's death and how he has provided for the boys forms some of the brotherly acrimony, but there is little that doesn't, from the brand of potato chips Valene has purchased to a collection of figurines he keeps above what may be the most discussed--and ultimately abused--stove in theatrical history.

Both the brothers and even Father Welsh are steadfast drinkers, and their supply of poteen is also a frequent matter of dissension.

The alcohol is supplied by an enterprising young woman named Girleen (Phoebe Moore), who rounds out the four-person cast.

Most of The Lonesome West--a 95-minute one-act--centers around the verbal and physical battles between Coleman and Valene, but other than noting that Irish brogues are believably employed throughout, I think I can leave any other narrative details for you to discover, including some shocking revelations as things really erupt.

But I will note that some of the brutality is offset not only by McDonagh's sly humor--with dialogue that can shift from the macabre to the mundane in the same sentence--but by the put-upon priest who wonders "If it's your own brother you can't get on with, how can we ever hope for peace in the world?" (Basically the gist of the entire play.)

There is also a warm tenderness between the priest and Girleen, whose scene together provides a humane respite from the over-the-top savagery.

You may not like what it has to say about the human condition and may feel a bit squeamish at times, but for rather low ticket prices--through AstonRep and even less through HotTix--The Lonesome West makes for a pretty fecking powerful night of theater.

At face value and well-beyond.

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