Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

A Skull in Connemara and
The Glass Menagerie

Stephen Novelli and Jake Blouch
Photo: Mark Garvin
Martin McDonough is a filmmaker and playwright with a reputation as a master of dark humor, and his play A Skull in Connemara lives up to that reputation. Lantern Theater Company's production is raucous and enjoyable, but the play doesn't rise to the heights that McDonough reached in plays such as The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Set in Leenane, the sleepy Irish town that serves as the setting for several of McDonough's plays, Skull concerns Mick, who is assigned every year to dig up and dispose of skeletons in an overcrowded graveyard. This year he's been assigned the section where his wife was buried seven years ago; she died in a car accident, but many of the villagers suspect Mick of murdering his wife, then staging the crash to cover up his crime. Mick employs Mairtin, a dimwitted teenager, to help him with his task; Mairtin's even dumber policeman brother Thomas factors in too, as does their nosy, argumentative grandmother Maryjohnny.

A Skull in Connemara works best when it's at its most quirky and grisly. Mick digs up bones and seems lackadaisical about it; in one extended scene, Mick and Mairtin get drunk and merrily smash bones with mallets just to watch the fragments scatter across the stage. And McDonough's dialogue is often droll, especially when Thomas reveals how much he patterns his village police work after TV cop dramas like "Hill Street Blues." Yet overall the play seems oddly restrained, lacking the wild, go-for-broke extremes that mark McDonough's best work. As a protagonist, Mick isn't sympathetic enough to earn the audience's trust nor mean enough to be a villain, and because he's the straight man to the two brothers, he isn't funny enough to be lovable. There's also little urgency to the play's plot, especially at the end when it dissipates into a kind of lightweight version of a Joe Orton comedy. Directors M. Craig Getting and Kathryn MacMillan never turn up the comic tension enough to make it all seem persuasive and vital.

Still, Stephen Novelli does a nice job as Mick, and Jake Blouch and Jered McLenigan earn lots of laughs as the brothers. Ellen Mulroney seems out of place as Maryjohnny; in both her characterization and her brogue, she never seems authentically Irish enough.

A Skull in Connemara is a lot of fun at times, but it's not quite as outrageous as it needs to be.

A Skull in Connemara runs through Sunday, February 13, 2011, is presented by Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow Streets, Philadelphia. Ticket prices range from $20 to $36 and may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 215-829-0395, online at or in person at the box office.

Jillian Louis
Photo: Mark Garvin
At their Independence Studio on 3, the Walnut Street Theatre is offering a low-key but impressive revival of Tennessee Williams' classic The Glass Menagerie. While there's nothing in director Bill Van Horn's production that will knock you out, it still does an effective job of telling Williams' evocative story of hopes dashed and dreams unfulfilled.

Van Horn's concept begins with the furniture of the Wingfield family's apartment covered with sheets and crated away. As Tom, the son and narrator, gives his opening monologue, he pulls the sheets away and uncrates the belongings; it's a subtle but effective metaphor to show Tom delving into his memories of his complicated family. Andrew Thompson's scenic design sets the right tone, looking appropriately dated and making the most of a limited playing area.

The actors playing the Wingfields—Wendy Scharfman as the domineering mother Amanda, Jillian Louis as the fragile daughter Laura, and Damon Bonetti as the rebellious Tom—all do fine, commendable jobs. If there's one failing in Van Horn's production, it's that the performances are sometimes too subdued for their own good; none of the actors goes the extra mile to break your heart. When the actor playing the Gentleman Caller (Jared Michael Delaney) dominates his scenes, something's a bit off.

Still, the production has a lovely intimacy and shows that the play, one of Williams' most straightforward works, remains moving and poetic. It's also nice to be reminded that Williams could be quite funny when he wanted to. All in all, this is an excellent, worthwhile production of one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century.

The Glass Menagerie runs through February 6, 2011, at the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $30, and are available by calling the box office at 215-574-3550, online at or, or by visiting the box office.

-- Tim Dunleavy

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