LYRICAL AND SCATHING Tir Na Theatre’s caustic yet mischievous revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West spares neither insults nor fisticuffs.
Suffice it to say that Leenane is no city of brotherly love. In the wild, rain-swept hamlet in Galway where bad-boy Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy is set, nothing is more black-comically toxic than familial relations. In the case of The Lonesome West, which is receiving a caustic yet mischievous revival by Tir Na Theatre (at Davis Square Theatre through June 3), siblings Coleman and Valene Connor cohabit a crude farmhouse while alternating between rude insult — stuff along the lines of “He’d steal the shite out of a burning pig” — and furious fisticuffs. Functioning as would-be mediators are Catholic priest Father Welsh, whose crosses are alcohol and his own ineffectiveness, and door-to-door booze purveyor Girleen Kelleher, whose ripeness serves as a mock to these sibs who have no women, just plenty of animosity, to keep them warm.
This being McDonagh, who always likes a good cudgeling or amputation, the Connors’ is more than a war of words — though the talk is lyrical and scathing. The curtain goes up in the wake of the siblings’ father’s funeral — Coleman blew the old man’s head off with a shotgun for sneering at his hairstyle. Valene has thereby gained the upper hand, lying that the murder was an accident in exchange for Coleman’s giving over of his birthright. Now everything in the house — from the new stove bought with life insurance to the rotgut “poteen” and low-rent crisps — is Valene’s. And he’s a possessive guy, marking everything from his bedroom door to the religious figurines he obsessively collects with a “V.”
The Lonesome West is not McDonagh’s greatest play; there is the sense that he’s going for gleeful shock without much point beyond the impossibility of learning to turn the other cheek. But Carmel O’Reilly directs a slam-dunk production, and the performances are terrific. Billy Meleady is a spry, merrily mean Valene, Colin Hamell a slightly thick, sadistic Coleman. In the midst of the mayhem, Derry Woodhouse, as Father Welsh, tenderly delivers a touching monologue about the power of forgiveness. And Lisa O’Brien’s Girleen is the breath of fresh air that the other characters, albeit holding their own breath, so desperately need.
SIMPLE AND AUTHENTIC Woody Sez is best at delivering Woody Guthrie’s music and spirit of protest when it cuts the corn.
DUST BOWL BLUES
A generous serving of cornpone gets crumbled across the Dust Bowl in Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie (presented by American Repertory Theater at the Loeb Drama Center through June 3). But there is social conscience, too, and some lively fiddling in this musical revue conceived by lanky Texan David M. Lutken, who plays Guthrie, and director Nick Corley, along with ensemble members Darcie Deaville, Helen-Jean Russell, and Andy Teirstein. Lutken’s Woody is not only a rustic and affable presence, but also a moral, sometimes mournful one, anchoring a piece played out before photographs of Guthrie and renderings of the wide, parched landscape he knew. But Lutken’s three co-performers, albeit impressive at playing everything from banjo and double-bass to forks and spoons, tend to push the material, making all the Okie-ness and folksiness a bit relentless.