by Martin McDonagh
Western Theatre Conspiracy
Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island
June 2-18
604-257-0366 or www.festivalboxoffice.com

Martin McDonagh won’t likely win any awards from chambers of commerce or bureaus of tourism in the remote northwest of Ireland where he sets his bleak, violent comedies of contemporary Irish life. But the plays themselves, including The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Beauty Queen of Leenane, have garnered multiple prizes and made McDonagh, a Londoner born to Irish parents, hugely successful.

Often compared to Irish master playwright John Synge for his plays’ ironies, settings and rich dialect, McDonagh cites as his actual models David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino. A Skull in Connemara shows the influence of all three, capturing small-time Irish men and women through the prism of booze and blarney, petty ambition, casual violence and hilariously absurd dialogue.

Richard Wolfe’s Western Theatre Conspiracy production brings McDonagh’s world vividly alive in all its dark comic grotesquery.

Rural Connemara is nowheresville, a place so backward that once every year Mick Dowd (William Samples) digs up the bones of the dead from the local churchyard to make room for new corpses. This year’s bones include those of his own wife, killed seven years earlier in an accident caused by his “drink driving.”

Mostly, Mick sits in his shack drinking poteen and gossiping with neighbour Maryjohnny (Wendy Morrow Donaldson), a bingo addict who sells “idjit Yanks” phony memorabilia from a locally shot John Wayne movie. Mick’s assistant at the graveyard is Maryjohnny’s feckless, angry, none too bright teenage grandson Mairtin (Johann Helf), whose claim to fame is once having cooked a live hamster. They’re joined by Mairtin’s bullying older brother (Adam Henderson), a constable who aspires to solve major crimes like his TV idol, Quincy.

Mysteries abound, including rumours that Mick’s wife’s death might have been murder. But where is her body? And whatever happens to those bones after he digs them up?

The plot takes some delirious twists and turns but the main pleasures of this piece are its gloriously absurd language and texture. The churchyard scene evokes Shakespeare’s gravediggers unearthing Yorick’s skull. But instead of Hamlet’s philosophizing, McDonagh has Mairtin thoughtfully observing, “You can stick yer fingers right in their eyes,” and wondering, “Where does yer t’ing go when you die?”

Later, we watch Mick demonstrate how to avoid drowning in your own vomit when you go to bed drunk, and hear an argument about whether you can write out a murder confession with a fluorescent bingo pen.

The acting is terrific, especially by the three men who deliver all the comic colours of the richly vulgar colloquial speech with its “feckin’” this and “feckin’” that. Kudos to David Roberts’ moody set with its working graveyard and to stage manager Anne Taylor who has to rebury the dead after every show and clean up the shards of skulls smashed to smithereens in the drunken orgy of violence that pretty much sums up a typical Saturday night in Connemara.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Thursday, June 16, 2005 2:04 PM
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