Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West is said to be his response to Sam Shepard’s True West, another play about skirmishing brothers in a lonely and stagnant setting. Coleman Connor has blown off his father’s head for mocking his hairstyle; his brother, Valene, has made him sign away his share in the house and meager inheritance in exchange for testifying that the shooting was accidental. Now Valene keeps Coleman on a tight financial leash while exulting in his plastic figurines of saints and a new but totally unnecessary orange stove, all marked with a defiant V. You may have guessed that – despite the frantic efforts of Father Welsh, the hapless young priest who views the Leenane parish as Siberia – neither the stove nor the saints will end happily, caught as they are in internecine fraternal crossfire.
Poor Father Welsh is trying to cope with the Leenane villagers, already responsible for three murders to which a suicide will soon be added. Vainly, he struggles to make peace between the Connors; resist the discreet but persistent advances of Girleen, the pretty teenager sweet on him; and control his craving for poteen, which (he claims) his parish is driving him to. The thankless Leenaners won’t even learn his name, calling him Walsh as often as Welsh. No wonder Father Walsh – oops! – Welsh is the laughingstock of the entire Irish Catholic church, which (we are told), given the competition, takes some doing.
That is your basic situation. McDonagh has an ear for rowdy and ribald rant, with fecking and arse the favored mots justes, and threats and insults raining as thick as the downpour outside the windows. Yet the inspiration is not so much Shepard as Synge, Brueghel, Ghelderode, and Tobacco Road, what with these neo-Rabelaisian rustics indulging their violent (although, being Catholic, sexless) antics. There is something comic, or tragicomic, there, but less in the writing than in the fine acting of Maelíosa Stafford, Brían F. O’Byrne, David Ganly, and Dawn Bradfield, and in the expert direction of Garry Hynes. But not even they can keep Act Two from seriously dragging.
And one other, minor lapse: How could a father mock the hairstyle of a Coleman portrayed by a near-bald actor?