Directed by Sheldon Patinkin
At The Gift Theatre, Chicago
Valene: “A great parish it is you run, one of them murdered his missus, an axe through her head, the other her mammy, a poker took her brains out.”
Father Welsh: “It seems like God has no jurisdiction in this town. No jurisdiction at all.”
Strong performances give McDonagh’s dark play life.
The Gift Theatre Company, the jewel of an Equity company on the Northwest side of Chicago, has once again proves that they do the best Irish plays in Chicago. The troupe is made up of several Irish-American descendants that recognize Irish brogues and old country idioms. Together with dialect coach Brigid Duffy, director Sheldon Patinkin has cast a wonderfully talented group of actors at home with both the West Irish accent and the idiosyncrasies of the rural Irish. They exude all the dark humor and pathos of living in a rural lonely existence. The Lonesome West is part of the Connemara trilogy set in Leenane, Ireland that include The Skull of Connemara and The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
We meet the brothers Connor – Coleman Connor (John Gawlik) and Valene Connor (John Kelly Connolly) the bachelors who argue and fight over everything from eating chips to drinking poteen. Coleman is the broke brother and Valene is the moneyed brother who is obsessed with collecting small religious figurines. Coleman is the brother filled with seething aggression just waiting to explode. Early on we learn that Coleman ‘accidentally’ blew off his father’s head. Coleman’s only interests seems to be eating and irritating his brother.
Father Welsh (Paul D’Addario), the self-doubting alcoholic parish priest attempts to get the brothers to make peace with one another. Father laments on the evil that seems to permeate through Leenane. He blames himself and his lack of faith for all the murders and suicides in the rural village.
Much of the play involves wild arguments between the brothers that led to physical fighting. The verbal barbs are darkly hilarious and the strange chemistry between Gawlik’s Coleman and Connolly’s Valene gives the work a weird vibe. The brothers seem to play out their angst in a ritual of communication based on mutual pettiness wherein each brother reminisced about past violent deeds played on the other brother. Violence and cruelty are the main communication tools of the brothers.
The brothers are sexless whose only female encounter is with Girleen Kelleher (Brittany Burch) their poteen distributor. Father Welsh drinks too much and reaches a new low when he learns that Coleman actually murdered his father since dad was a nasty person.
Father commits an act of self-punishment as another ‘act of maudlin’ due to his ineffectual parish work.
When the brothers read Father Welsh’s letter after his suicide, they declare peace as each tries to come clean about their past angry actions toward each other. These scenes are funny as they escalate toward unpredictable ends.
The Lonesome West is a poignant, dark and movingly maudlin work that depicts how loneliness and sexual repression can be expressed in violence. Gawlik, Connolly and D’Addario gave powerful and emotional performances. They leave everything on the stage. The Lonesome West is a ‘must see’ work.
At the Gift Theatre, 4802 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL, tickets $25 – $30, call 773-283-7071, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7;30 pm, Sundays at 2;30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission.