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