Spine: ‘The Lonesome West’ and Other Motherless Places at Keegan Theatre

Not long ago, Washington was the Murder-Capital of the USA. Crack Wars. Drive-Bys. Domestic Violence. Police Brutality. And all on a daily basis.

Sarah Chapin, Matthew Keenan, and Bradley Foster Smith. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.
Sarah Chapin, Matthew Keenan, and Bradley Foster Smith. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

The Murder-Capital of Europe in 1993 was apparently Leenane, Connemara County, Galway, Ireland. Or as least so says Father Welsh in Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy, The Lonesome West, now playing at Keegan Theatre.

In real life, such violence is no laughing matter. So thank God for theatre! Thank God for fantasy, where we can laugh at the sickest, most horrid things.

Some say such debauchery, such violence and depravity, such cultural decadence is the Irish’s artistic brand; but, with over 30,000 murders a year in the USA, I’m sure playwrights, poets, and novelists here could claim the same territory if only they had the stomach for it.

Until then, we have the Irish to represent American debauch and Martin McDonagh to remind us of our blood lust for murder and mayhem.

With Keegan Theatre’s production of The Lonesome West, you’ll either find yourself laughing at oozing bullet-holes and guillotined doggy ears or you’ll turn to drink, the hard stuff and plenty of it.

Either way you’ll pray that folks like these only live in some far away Virginia, or better yet a further away Kansas, or better yet you’ll pray that they live only in Ireland, in the countryside no less; for, if they live on the next block over, you’ll have to hold on to your ears on your way home from the theatre.

The cast is led by the Connor Brothers, Matthew J. Keenan as Coleman and Bradley Foster Smith as Valene. Their high chemistry feuding fuels the play’s comic underpinnings, which relies primarily on making the ghastly and gruesome totally normal and guilt free.

The horrible death of their father has left them his “estate”, or rather has left Valene with the whole of his estate. This imbalance did not happen because the father favored Valene over his older brother but because Valene witnessed Coleman’s brutal murder of his father.

You see, Coleman has anger issues, severe anger issues–we’re talking flipping out rage–and his Dad made the mistake of criticizing Coleman’s hair. So Coleman used a gun to critique his Dad’s forehead.

In return for his silence, Valene demands their Dad’s estate, in total.

Bradley Foster Smith and Matthew Keenan. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.
Bradley Foster Smith and Matthew Keenan. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

Imbalances in power and money never go well in family affairs, and this world’s patriarchy is in serious trouble.

Neither son works, nor does much of anything productive. Coleman broods all day except when he’s drinking other people’s liquor or ripping into Valene’s masculinity with his acid-laced tongue.

Meanwhile, Valene spends his inheritance on religious figurines. The blessed Virgin Mary being his favorite. Valene also loves to flout over Coleman his newly acquired economic status, which burns Coleman to the core of his pitch soul (he truly has no redeeming qualities, a rare accomplishment in literature of any sort).

And since you cannot have a representation of Irish culture without a representative of the Catholic Church, in walks Father Welsh played by Chris Stezin.

The brothers get top billing but the father takes the sympathy prize. Leenane has driven him to drink, and drink, and drink. Unfortunately, in The Lonesome West the church has no sway over the decadent behaviors of these brothers or any other resident of Leenane: even the girls’ junior soccer team has a reputation for sending opposing players to the hospital while they set records in receiving Red Flags. And Father Welsh is their coach.

Chris Stezin and Bradley Foster Smith. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.
Chris Stezin and Bradley Foster Smith. Photo by Cameron Whitman Photography.

All hope will not be lost in poor Leenane, however. Girleen Kelleher, played by Sarah Chapin, actually works for a living, albeit in the underground whiskey business. She is truly the hope for the future, and in McDonagh’s bleakish world we in the audience cling for whatever thread there is.

Don’t let her name “Girleen” fool you. She is not to be fiddled with, which Coleman Connor would have surely done, if she had had the slightest hint of a gullible side.

Director Mark A. Rhea knows what he wants to do with The Lonesome West. He’s got hip contemporary music, dancing scene changers that give the audience a show, and the occasional voice-over to punctuate proceedings.

The one thing that The Lonesome West will not accomplish, however, is restore your faith in humanity.

If you don’t want to start drinking heavily, come prepared to laugh. It might not work completely but, at the very least, it will save you a few on your post-show bar tab.

Running Time: Two hours and 30-minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

The Lonesome West plays through August 27, 2016 at The Keegan Theatre -1742 Church Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.


‘The Lonesome West’ at The Keegan Theatre reviewed by David Friscic.

Spine: ‘The Lonesome West’ and Other Motherless Places at Keegan Theatre by Robert Michael Oliver.

Magic Time! ‘The Lonesome West’ at The Keegan Theatre by John Stoltenberg.

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Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.


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