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Souls so ‘Lonesome’ they could die (or kill)

By |2018-01-16T11:05:53-05:00May 20th, 2010|Entertainment|

By D. A. Blackburn

Playwright Martin McDonagh’s vision of Western Ireland is bleak. It’s also jarringly funny — in an exceptionally dark sense of the word — and though his writings about the region and its people skew toward the violent, subversive and generally ugly, his narrative sensibilities find a glimmer of hope among the carnage. His “The Lonesome West” — the final installment of the Leenane Trilogy — plays Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre through June 5. Patrons may never look at a potato chip, the priesthood or brotherly love the same way again.
Brothers Coleman and Valene are bitter rivals. They’ve grown up tormenting each other, and by default, all those surrounding them, in a persistent effort to destroy one another. But following their father’s untimely — and rather suspicious — demise, they must find a way to come together, lest they agonize in solitude and their parish priest suffer eternal damnation.
Around them, death seems to permeate the atmosphere — murder and suicide being all-to-common occurrences in the town of Leenane. Father Welsh, the only soul concerned for the brothers’ well being, is embroiled in a near-constant crisis of faith. And love is merely a fantasy for all involved, including the fetching young Girleen, whose misguided affections could drive the local clergy to excommunication.
As the brothers’ relationship devolves into frequent, violent rows — over everything from snack food to potcheen liquor and religious ornamentation — Father Welsh makes a bold, if personally disastrous, play to save Coleman and Valene from themselves and each other. But will it work?
Director Demetri Vacratsis’ vision for the work is quite solid and well thought out. His pacing is brisk, but the overall impact is like that of a slow-burning fuse — intensely timed with a consistent undercurrent of impending doom. And, he manages to extract strong performances from his cast of four, in most respects.
Kevin Young’s Valene is an egomaniacal man with quirky physical and verbal mannerisms. He is, at once, ingratiatingly funny, annoying and hostile. It takes a clever performance to bring such a character into existence credibly, and Young has done a fine job.
Stephen Blackwell’s Coleman has a more natural affectation, though he is clearly a psychopath and the work’s true villain. Blackwell is at home in such a dark, brooding role.
As Father Welsh, Dave Davies strikes a perfect chord, giving the priest a profound concern for his fellow man, while also watching his life and faith slip into the abyss. Katie Galazka’s Girleen, too, makes a fine impression.
But there are significant problems at play in Planet Ant’s “The Lonesome West.” Dialect coach Patrick Moltane has made an obvious impact on the production, but the only true consistency in dialect comes from Davies. All others floundered a bit, struggling to maintain accents through McDonagh’s very Irish dialogue. Symptomatic of this problem, on opening night, were Galazka’s infrequent, but prominent stumbles through her more briskly paced lines.
Katie Orwig’s sets and properties are a nice fit for the production, but the (uncredited) sound scape could use significant improvement. While it is a minimalist element in the production, it stands out for weak execution, and in the case of a gunshot, its poor timing.
This production of “The Lonesome West” has all the elements of an entertaining evening of theater, but it often feels as though it’s not yet ready for public consumption. This may owe, in part, to its scheduling proximity to other projects, as director and leads have been involved in major endeavors until just recently (“Love Bombing After the Earthquake” for Vacratsis and Young, “Hurlyburly” for Blackwell). “The Lonesome West” feels as though it could benefit from another week of rehearsal, and it will likely improve as the run progresses. In any case, the opening night performance tipped the scales on the positive side.

‘The Lonesome West’
Planet Ant Theatre, 2357 Caniff Ave., Hamtramck. Friday-Saturday through June 5, plus Sundays May 23 & 30. $20. 313-365-4948.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.