Blue Room’s Lonesome West ultimately uplifting; Othello‘s devilish Iago almost steals the show
Compared to his other dramatic works—The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of Inishmaan—Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West is practically uplifting. To be sure, the setting here is once more the bleak west country of County Galway and the isolated community of Leenane. And again, as with the previous plays, the main characters’ situations are simultaneously as humorous as they are horrifying. And yet here somehow there is a literal glimmer of hope in the end.
The story picks up after the funeral of brothers Valene and Coleman Connor’s father, dead from an “accidental” shooting. Their opposing natures are illustrated almost immediately: Valene’s mad obsession with religious figurines; Coleman’s conniving manipulations. The two comprise one creature, a mad beast intent not simply on chasing its own tail but ultimately on tearing itself in half. It isn’t long at all before Valene and Coleman are in a hell-bent wrestling match.
Enter “failed” priest Father Welsh. Welsh already has taken to drink, sharply aware of his ineffectiveness as the spiritual leader of a community riddled with unsolved murders and suicides. Not far behind Welsh comes the attractive Girleen, who declares before the horny brothers, “No fella will be gettin’ in these knickers on a busman’s wages!”
From here the enmity between the brothers escalates, and it seems very likely that the Connors will wind up killing each other (there’s even a quite obviously placed, Chekhovian shotgun). Coleman hides Valene’s figurines in the latter’s new electric stove, sending Valene on a frantic search culminating with Coleman’s cool confession. Weary from breaking up the Connors’ mutual death struggles, Father Welsh reaches a somber decision, even after learning of young Girleen’s growing affections for the disillusioned priest.
Callen Reece and Jeremy Votava are appropriately volatile as warring brothers Coleman and Valene, respectively. Each conveys his character’s mutual loathing and self-destructive mania convincingly, their authentic-sounding brogues bordering on indecipherable when they really get going. Erik Pedersen projects Father Welsh’s despair with palpable weariness; one simultaneously laughs and winces as he starts swearing more to punctuate his drunken desperation. Betsy Brewer is enjoyable as Girleen; however, of the four cast members she had the weakest grip on her Irish accent.
The set suggested psychic desolation. Lighting was good—that single light ray at the conclusion managing not to come off as corny. And, as stated earlier, this play seems like McDonagh’s most hopeful. I won’t give away why.
This year’s Shakespeare in the Park production, Othello, the Moor of Venice, is actually entertaining, and director Joyce Henderson keeps the piece moving.
Basically, Moorish mercenary Othello (well-played by relative newcomer Nicholas King) has eloped with nobleman Barbatino’s beautiful young daughter, Desdemona (Karen Anne Light, finally in a deserved major role). Othello’s underling Iago (Bruce Dillman), jealous of Othello’s happiness and bitter after being passed up for a promotion, deigns to betray the Moor and bring all the man’s happiness crashing down around the Adam-and-Eve-like couple. Dillman generally delights so much in Iago’s devilish mischief making, he all but steals the show. In fact, on a few occasions, the audience was seemingly too engrossed in Iago’s sharp puns to demonstrate any sympathy for the victims of the villain’s manipulations! A sign of the times?
Still, the principals played their roles well, with additional and particular nods to Eli Bird as Iago’s unwitting tool, Roderigo, Donald Owen’s Barbantio, Bill O’Hare’s Duke of Venice, Marc Fellner’s Cassio, and Henderson’s own stab at Iago’s wife, Emelia, who comes off as the too-little-noticed voice of reason here.