Review

There’s Little Brotherly Love But Plenty of Poteen in The Lonesome West by AstonRep

Robert Tobin and Dylan Todd as Coleman and Valene. Photo by. Emily Schwartz

The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh is a story of two Irish brothers, locked in a codependent relationship of affection and hatred (mostly the latter). Throughout the course of the 100-minute play by AstonRep, they bait each other about current and past grievances and attack each other physically. Pets and personal possessions aren’t safe either. Dana Anderson directs this riproaring take on sibling grudges and suggests that despite the toxic relationship, the two brothers need each other.

If you enjoy black humor and the Irish propensities for drink and morbidity, you’ll find The Lonesome West to be hilariously entertaining. However, if fist fights, threats and actual violence bother you, skip this one.

McDonagh’s 1997 play is part of his Leenane trilogy, which includes Beauty Queen of Leenane and A Skull in Connemara. All are set in the western town of Leenane in Galway. McDonagh’s plays (and his films, such as In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths and the 2017 award-winner, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) are laced with violence and dark humor. The Lonesome West is a McDonagh classic, with plenty of similarities and a clear homage to Sam Shepard’s 1980 play, True West.

The Connor brothers have just come from the funeral of their father, who died of a gunshot to the head—inflicted by Coleman (Robert Tobin) because his father criticized his haircut. Valene (Dylan Todd) was the only witness and agreed to say it was an accident—if Coleman signed over his share of their father’s estate to Valene. Thus Valene has just purchased a new stove (bright orange with a V scrawled by hand on the front) for his own use and another supply of religious figurines, with which he decorates the mantle of their shabby living room. Coleman sees to it that the two purchases combine in a way that enrages Valene.

Father Welsh (Mark Tacderas) is a regular visitor and consumer of Valene’s poteen. Girleen (Phoebe Moore), a pretty local girl with a suitably foul mouth, deals in poteen and Valene is her customer. She’s also sweet on Father Welsh, to his dismay.

Robert Tobin, Phoebe Moore and Mark Tacderas as Coleman, Girleen and Father Welsh. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

Father Welsh is a reluctant parish priest, who laments that he’s a bad priest and runs the worst parish in Ireland. He’s had two murders and a suicide recently. He says, “I’d have to have killed half me fecking relatives to fit into this town. Jeez. I thought Leenane was a nice place when first I turned up here, but no. Turns out it’s the murder capital of fecking Europe.”

The play is a slice of life in which nothing changes from beginning to end. The two brothers are belligerent to each other at the beginning; they battle about the most mundane offenses. At one point near the end, they talk about childhood and adolescent crimes and transgressions, and apologize to each other for past deeds. Of course, this détente lasts about five minutes. As Valene says to Father Welsh, “Nobody’ll notice a biteen more hate, so, if there’s plenty enough hate in the world.”

Tobin and Todd are well matched as the two brothers. Todd’s eyes and facial expressions are fierce and Tobin’s size makes him formidable. Both Tacderas as Father Welsh (whose name is regularly mispronounced as Walsh or Welsh) and Moore as Girleen are excellent in their performances too.

Jeremiah Barr’s scenic design successfully replicates the kitchen and living room of the Connors’ old farmhouse. The lighting design is by Samantha Barr and sound design by Melanie Thompson. Essential expertise for this play is provided in the fight choreography by Claire Yearman and the dialect coaching by Carrie Hardin.

In my 2016 review of Shattered Globe’s True West, I wrote, “Anyone who had rowdy brothers or raised a pair of sons will feel a chill of recognition at some point during Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of True West, Sam Shepard’s classic play of brotherly rivalry.” The same holds true for The Lonesome West, which I first saw in 2002 when the late Famous Door Theatre staged it at A Red Orchid Theatre. The feeling of audience involvement is intense for a play like this when the audience is seated in a tiny theater, up close to the action. I dream of some day taking my two sons to see The Lonesome West in some future storefront production.

The Lonesome West by AstonRep Theatre continues at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., through November 18. Performances are Thursday-Sunday. Buy tickets for $25 (or $15 for students and seniors).

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