Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Irish are at It Again in
The Lonesome West

Also see Richard's review of Little Mary Sunshine

The Magic Theatre is currently presenting Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West in the Fort Mason Center. This is the third part in the playwright's "Leenane" trilogy about the citizens of Connemara, Ireland. Obviously, I have personal feelings when I see these trilogies, since this is our family ancestral home. However, I don't think all of the citizens of the West County are quite as loony as the Connor brothers (though I had some uncles who might have been borderline cases).

I saw the original production of The Lonesome West in New York, and I loved the actions of these two somewhat cartoon characters. Though there were mixed reactions to the original, as there have been for the Magic Theatre production, if you are Irish and have that certain Gallic sense of humor, you will love this production. The Magic Theatre production is just as good as the Broadway version, and you are much closer to the characters in the small three sided theatre. Beware if you sitting in the front row since these guys do a lot of physical bits, including the throwing of ceramic statues of saints in the last scene.

The Lonesome West takes place in the fictional town of Leenane, in Connemara, County Galway, which is the playwright's hellish little universe of choice (McDonagh was born and bred in London and used to visit Ireland during his summer months with his family). The skies are always threatening, the folks appear to be angry all the time, and the main activities are domestic homicide, suicide and fratricide with a little mutilation thrown in for good measure. No wonder Father Welsh (Craig Neibaur) says, "I'm a terrible priest with a terrible parish."

Robert Parsons as Valene, and Philip Stockton as his brother, Coleman
The Lonesome West can be described as a dark comedy about two middle aged brothers, Coleman (Phil Stockton) and Valene (Robert Parsons), living in the same house. Coleman has "accidentally" killed their father with the shotgun that hangs over the stone fireplace. Coleman is disheveled, thickset and dangerous looking while his brother is the complete opposite. Valene is instinctively neat, frugal and somewhat prissy. To make matters worse, the father left him in control of the house, the finances and the vital supply of Irish potato whiskey called "poteen."

The brothers have no love for each other, and they have bullied and provoked each other since they were wee tots. Neither has married and both are probably still virgins. Father Welsh has tried to tame the brothers, but it is a losing battle. The priest also suffers from a constant crisis of faith. Also in this mix is a foul mouthed teenager, Girleen (Frances Anita Rivera), who sells poteen to the brothers and maybe is a little loose with her morals. There is a beautiful scene in the second act about an unconsummated love between the priest and the young girl that ends in tragedy.

The ending of the drama is a tour de force of acting as the brothers read the priest's impassioned letter pleading with them to forge a truce. The brothers' apologizies to each other for all the wrongs done to each other over the years becomes a game of one-upmanship. This ends in an earth shattering display of violence. Some of the lines in that scene are hilarious, especially to this Catholic trained person. To paraphrase the lines as said by Coleman:

"It's always the best one go to hell. Me, probably straight to heaven I'll go, even though I blew the head off poor dad. So long as I go confessing to it anyways. That's the good thing about being Catholic. You can shoot your dad in the head and it doesn't even matter at all."

The acting of the four performers is superb. Phil Stockton plays Coleman aggressively and looks very dangerous when he gets mad. Robert Parsons is perfect as the prissy, tightfisted Valene. Craig Neibaur is excellent as he tries to be a good priest in a terrible parish. His lovely tragicomic speeches are played with an affecting blend of innocence and loneliness. Francis Anita Rivera gives a lovely, sad performance as Girleen.

The set by Aiyana Trooter is excellent on the small stage of the Magic. You'll get a claustrophobic feeling when you see the living room set. Over a stone fireplace is a crucifix that is the center of attention, and director Barbara Damashek has provided a new row of religious figurines on the mantle that become a key issue in the last scene. She has staged this production with the utmost compassion.

I can only hope that the Connor brothers are not related to me in any way.

The Lonesome West run through July 6 at the Magic Theatre, Buiding D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or visit The new era under Chris Smith's artistic director guidance starts in September with Julie Marie Myatt's The Sex Habits of American Women

Photo: David Allen

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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