Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Lonesome West
Robert Ashton directs The Lonesome West with an unerring eye for faith and absurdity in the tumble-down home of two brothers, Coleman and Valene (the raw and raucous Jason Meyers and Jeff Kargus). McDonagh wrote The Pillowman as well, another story of two young men: a great storyteller and his devoted special-needs brother. In The Lonesome West Coleman and Valene have one foot in each type, deft storytelling as well as classical, comical, theatrical idiocy. It puts them into a kind of perpetual "Punch and Judy" knockabout comedy, with horrifying twists and turns. Ted Drury is noble and long suffering as Father Welsh, a hapless, hopeless priest; and Hannah Geisz unveils layers of smiles and tears as Girleen Kelleher, a neighbor girl. Add on professional-grade pacing, even with plenty of nuance, and you've got yourself one hell of a show.
Every year, governments spend billions of dollars hoping to lift men out of the squalor of ignorance and torment, oftentimes with very little hope of success. And after seeing this show I am just the tiniest bit glad they never quite manage it entirely, to raise us all up into some kind of worldwide, uniform nobility. In The Lonesome West you can hear the beauty in the music of existentialism and (between comic moments) a strange dark poetry of hopelessness in the brutal madness between two brothers. You might even think of The Lonesome West as a disguised story of the bullies of your own youth, in their own homes, behind closed doors, destroying one another. But it's still funny–and heartbreaking.
Valene is earnest and simple, but easily provoked by his older brother Coleman. A long list of weird, violent, stupid tragedies blows through the narrative, like a lifelong train wreck, which begins (for us) after their father's funeral in act one. Rest assured, all this chaos and insanity will be retold in a straight-line refrain, like the end of a murder mystery, in a riveting scene at the very end. But only after that priest and that beautiful young woman of the town have thoroughly washed their hands of the pair.
Mr. Drury and Ms. Geisz are perfectly cinematic on a park bench at the top of act two, as Father Welsh and Girleen. I felt like I was watching an Oscar-nominated film jammed into the middle of a bare-knuckles Marx Brothers comedy when Drury and Geisz discussed the priest's plan to leave town, after all the barbarism he's hammered away at for years there. True, it's a story of Irish faith and flesh, and the unrepentant Bible illiteracy of these frequently inebriated townspeople. But, miraculously, there's just enough philosophy embedded in the brothers' souls to pull them away from killing each other every two or three minutes.
Which, of course, lands us back in the quadrant of Comedy, all over again.
The Lonesome West runs through May 8, 2022, at West End Players Guild, Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Avenue (just north of Delmar), St. Louis MO. Seating is arranged in very small groups, and face-masks are required throughout. A small but pivotal part of the story involves animal cruelty. For tickets and information call 314-667-5686 or visit www.westendplayers.org.