Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the

April 4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New York: `A Skull in Connemara’

A Skull in Connemara" is the middle play of the

Leenane trilogy by the Irish-born, London-bred playwright Martin


While the first part — "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" —

found great success on Broadway, the last part, "The Lonesome

West," though equally deserving, did not. This third, betwixt

and between play, which has been fearsomely and fearlessly staged

by Gordon Edelstein, is driven by McDonagh’s penchant for bloody


battles and his gift for homespun blarney. It also has some great

acting. Yet what it does not have are the poignantly resonating


that propelled "Beauty Queen," or the highly-charged


that marked the endless fraternal feuding of "Lonesome West."

Those who have been previously delighted by McDonagh’s macabre sense

of humor and his taste for the more lurid aspects of life among the

Irish of Galway will probably be more easily persuaded than will


to swallow this play’s more pretentious perversity.

As he does in "The Lonesome West," McDonagh pits two brothers

against each other. One is Mairtin Hanlon (Christopher Carley), a

carrot-topped idler who, in need of a few quid, offers his services

to Mick Dowd (Kevin Tighe), the local gravedigger. Sullen and


Mick has elected to live a reclusive life ever since the death of

his wife, Oona, in a car accident. Mairtin’s abrasive and immature

behavior may be a bit of a bother and annoyance to Mick, but it is

nothing compared to the trouble being brewed by Mairtin’s older


Thomas Hanlon (Christopher Evan Welch), a slimy vengeful policeman,

equipped with less smarts than the blundering Inspector Clousot.

Thomas Hanlon will do anything to get a promotion. And Thomas


as do others in the town, that Oona’s death was not an accident, and

that Mick inflicted the fatal bash to her head. For the past seven

years, Thomas has been gathering questionable and what he hopes will

be incriminating evidence to prove his theory. And for these past

seven years, the brothers’ busybody granny, Maryjohnny Rafferty


Leroy), one of the town’s more colorful characters, has made Mick’s

shanty a regular stop between her daily treks to the bingo parlor

and her nightly retreat back to her home in boggy Leenane.

The first act consists mainly of Mick and Maryjohnny sharing local

gossip and drinking his homemade poteen. There is no denying that

the enigmatic and funny dialogue that passes between these two is

amusing. McDonagh’s gift for making his characters both larger than

life and at the same time petty and peculiar cannot be denied. The

death of Mick’s wife, an event that seems to be as mired in mystery

as it is in malarkey, is stealthily woven into the plot.

It seems that every seven years the town enlists Mick to dig up a

section of the graveyard to make room for new graves. And this is

only one of the plot’s more oddball components. Despite Mairtin’s

enthusiasm for the job, which includes smashing up the bones once

they are exhumed, Mick is reluctant. He is hesitant to dig up that

part of the graveyard where he knows that Oona is buried.

The second act opens in the graveyard where we fully appreciate set

designer David Gallo’s environmentally conceived setting. From the

outset, the set infers that we are among the interred: above us are

rows of moss-tangled coffins, their rotting bottoms suspended from

the rafters. If old Will Shakespeare himself were buried there, he’d

be seen spinning in his grave knowing how self-consciously this scene

pays tribute to the gravediggers’ scene in "Hamlet." Alas,

the remains of Oona are mysteriously missing, although there are


and bones aplenty for Mick and Mairtin to fondle and dispose of with

playful abandon.

The question remains: Who robbed the grave of Oona’s remains and why?

The truth will out, but not before we are treated to the sight of

another bloody head and a few timely revelations.

The cast has mastered McDonagh’s Irish colloquial inflections,


and rhythms, and taken to heart the strange, volatile, and comical

natures of their characters. Tighe, who appeared as Mick in the


premiere of "A Skull" at ACT, keeps us waiting for each sudden

reversal of his mood. This, as he playfully teases the gullible


and then suddenly appears as a horrifying madman on the loose. If

there is a cliche embedded in Welch’s unctuous and beagle-eyed


its effect is completely original. Carley is a hoot as the prankish

Mairtin, and Leroy delivers as much local lunacy with her stare as

with her stories. But, as stories go, "A Skull in Connemara"

does not contain rich emotional sod that made those other trips to

Leenane so extraordinary. Two Stars.

— Simon Saltzman

A Skull in Connemara, Roundabout Theater, 127 East 23,

New York, 212-777-4900. $55.

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