Monday, November 22, 2010

The Lonesome West Not McDonagh's Best, But Still Quite Leenane Tasty: Theater Review

Theater Review

The Lonesome West
a play by Martin McDonagh
The Gift Theatre, Chicago
Thru December 19, 2010

On the basis of having now seen and very much enjoyed three plays by Martin McDonagh--of the seven he has had produced and published  along with an excellent movie, In Bruges--the 40-year-old Irish playwright ranks as my favorite working today. Or at least the one whose full oeuvre I most hope to eventually see, even if his latest play--A Behanding in Spokane--opened on Broadway this past March to very disappointing reviews.

Over the last few years, I have seen The Pillowman, twice, including an outstanding rendition in January at Chicago's Redtwist Theatre, and the similarly superlative The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the second play of his second trilogy (The Aran Islands Trilogy, whose third play, The Banshees of Inisheer, has never been produced or published).

So I was very much anticipating seeing The Lonesome West, the Tony nominated last play of The Leenane Trilogy, on Saturday at Chicago's tiny Gift Theatre, where I had recently seen their highly acclaimed original work, Suicide, Incorporated. Although I have yet to see The Beauty Queen of Leenane or A Skull in Connemara, I was assured that they weren't prerequisite for understanding or enjoying Lonesome West.

I did enjoy it and, except for wishing for a bit of clarity regarding a plot point at the very end, I think I understood it, yet it didn't provide nearly the visceral thrill of Lieutanant of Inishmore or exude quite the brilliance of Pillowman. John Gawlik and John Kelly Connolly were both excellent as the feuding Connor brothers but it wasn't until the half-hour final scene that Lonesome West really started to rock. In fact, I thought the play may have been at it's end--like 'Inishmore' this one required quite a bit of stage mopping after multiple scenes--before the rollicking last scene came about.

Also like 'Inishmore' and I'd imagine many of his works that I've yet to see, I'm guessing McDonagh meant The Lonesome West as allegory about senseless, ongoing violence in Ireland and how "peace" may always be tenuous at best, especially when past destruction can never be fully forgotten. As such, like much of Arthur Miller's best work, The Lonesome West has a resonance that extends considerably beyond the action on stage.

So even if it isn't the very best example of McDonagh's unique talent--and according to Tribune critic Chris Jones something was lost in the Gift's tight space staging--especially with discount tickets typically available through HotTix, The Lonesome West still more than merits your heading in its direction.

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