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September 19, 2000

The Lonesome West -- an Irish Morality Play

A Review by Pat Pinson

The Fall 2000 season opened with a fair bit o' Irish bluster on Friday night, September 15 in the Mobile Theater Guild's presentation of The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh. Following well within the footsteps of the Irish national theater tradition, it is a play about the violence and the inner conflict of its middle class characters. But such heavy issues are presented with the banter and rich sarcasm of the broad Irish brogue which brings laughter throughout. The "lonesome west" of the title refers to the area around Galway Bay. This is the same area as Synges' Playboy of the Western World, and where W. B. Yeats initiated his Irish Literary Theater, the forerunner of this distinctive tradition of dramatic realism.

The play has only four characters, two brothers, a priest, and a girl -- and basically has only one set, the kitchen-living area of a modest Irish home. Except for fights between the siblings, all the action takes place off stage. But it is not a little play -- its comedy and tragedy are far reaching.

The brothers are convincingly played by Paul Christensen and Anthony Lord. Christensen's portrayal of volatile temper and Lord's petty hoarding erupts into realistic rough and tumble scrapes and one-upmanship. Their dialogue, even in the "Irish" they are speaking, is natural and well paced. They never let the accent falter, in fact, it was so thick sometimes at the beginning of the play, the listener had to scramble to catch all the words. Many of the words are coarse, but the audience didn't seem offended because of the difference in pronunciation and their constancy.

Allen Lyle portrayed the priest, Father Welsh, with intense poignancy. His soliloquy at the end of Act One was the highlight of the evening. This ability to embody the tragedy of the human condition on one hand, and the light comedic language one adopts to cope with it on the other, made the ironies of this play not only apparent but tragic. This character is the cathartic element of the play and Lyle rose to the occasion.

Technical aspects of lighting and sound were effective -- the sound of water in the scene by the lake was well chosen and created a full visual set of the night, and the lingering light on the letter at the end, clinches the whole meaning of the play.

This modern morality play seems plotless initially, and the dialogue appears to carry it. ("A man killed himself and you don't bat an eye. You go on fighting about crisps [potato chips] and stoves." After a pause - "I batted an eye." and "This parish will drive you to drink." "You don't have to drive, it's just a short walk.") But the issues emerge around suicides, pointless murders, and complacency. It is a very good play, well structured, and well performed and produced. Go see it. It will entertain you and make you laugh while you are there, and after you leave, it will make you think.


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