Playwright: Martin McDonagh
At: AstonRep ( sic ) Theatre Company @ Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark. Tickets: 773-828-9129; AstonRep.com; $25. Runs through: Nov. 18
If we believe Irish drama, the wild men of Ireland's Galway and Mayo counties have a tradition of patricide.
Murderous sons boast of their deeds in both John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World in 1907, and Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West 90 years later, but offing parents isn't the actual focus. The deedsoccurring before the plays beginare devices to access how Irish institutions suffocate each successive generation.
The main institution in The Lonesome West is Catholicism, treated largely as a joke in this pitch-black comedy. Represented by alcoholic priest Father Welsh ( Mark Tacderas in a well-drawn performance ), the Church is ubiquitous but superficial and powerless. Religion itself is irrelevant. One central character, Valene Connor ( Dylan Todd ), collects figurines of the saints and Holy Family without the slightest manifestation of belief. He's upset only when his brother Coleman Connor ( Robert Tobin ) melts them down in the oven.
It's Coleman who shot dear Dad as Valene watched. In exchange for saying it was accidental, Valene took Coleman's share of Pop's property, consisting of a shabby and somewhat-primitive house and several hundred Irish pounds in cash, which Valene flaunts before Coleman. The unwed adult brothers live in the family house, constantly arguing and physically fighting over everything from potato chips and booze to magazines and the figurines ... which really isn't much of a range, come to think about it.
The brothers are SO contentious, foul-mouthed, misogynistic, petty, selfish and amoral that it's impossible to empathize with them, which makes it difficult to like the play or production. Coleman sums up their merit when he observes, "That's the good thing about being a Catholic. You can shoot your father in the head and it doesn't matter at all, as long as you confess it." Heaven still is his.
As directed by Dana Anderson, the brothers snarl and shout almost from the start, despite Father Welsh's best efforts to pacify them. Problem is, when a play begins nearly at a fever pitch, there isn't much room to move. Boiling water can't boil hotter. By mid-play, McDonagh has engineered the departure of Father Welsh, and the badly underwritten role of a cheeky local girl who cares about him, Girleen Kelleher ( sympathetic work by Phoebe Moore ), leaving the brothers on their own. Although only 95 minutes long, the play soon becomes repetitive because the brothers don't change one iota from first to last. Todd and Tobin are capable actors with nowhere to go. Anderson is partly to blame, but so is McDonagh. The dark human underbelly dominates The Lonesome West through the brilliant mean wit of his words, and compensating valueslet alone compassionare not allowed equal weight.