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The Lonesome West
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Robert Ashton
West End Players Guild
April 28, 2022

Jason Meyers, Jeff Kargus
Photo by John Lamb
West End Players Guild

West End Players Guild’s latest production is from celebrated Irish-English playwright Martin McDonagh, whose specialty is dark comedy with a penchant for the gruesome. The Lonesome West, however, even though it’s still essentially a dark comedy, is something of a departure in that it explores its relationships with not just a sharp edge, but also with a bit of a softer side and not a few moments of true poignancy. As staged at WEPG, it’s also an expertly paced showcase for four excellent local performers.

Set in Leenane, Galway, Ireland, the play follows two brothers, Valene (Jeff Kargus), and Coleman (Jason Meyers), who are constantly squabbling over multiple issues, big and small. We first meet them after the funeral of their father, who was shot by Coleman apparently by accident. Valene is extremely possessive, putting his initial on everything that belongs to him, from his new stove to bottles of booze to snack foods, and is reluctant to share with his brother. He also irritates Coleman by obsessing over his collection of figurines of various Catholic saints. Coleman, for his part, irritates his brother by constantly flouting his rules, and both brothers are a source of frustration for the local village priest, Father Welsh (Ted Drury), whose name they can’t even always get right, and who is frequently questioning his faith because of his perceived inability to have any effect whatsoever on the moral development of the townspeople. There’s also Girleen (Hannah Geisz), a neighborhood schoolgirl who hawks her father’s homemade booze and seems to look up to Father Welsh, despite the priest’s continued self-doubt. It’s these two characters who most often produce the occasional poignant moments that appear from time to time in the play, while the brothers are a chaotic force that drives the dark comedy ever darker. Even when there’s a new tragedy that makes the brothers take stock in their own lives and their relationship, they still can’t seem to help their constant needling of one another. 

Like McDonagh’s other plays that I have seen, the sense of setting is strong here, with a believably Irish tone and atmosphere that’s well maintained in this production by the excellent work of the actors and designers. The small, seemingly ancient farmhouse is well-realized in Brad Slavik’s remarkably detailed set, and the characters are appropriately outfitted by costumer Tracey Newcomb. There’s also strong work on props from Frank Goudsmit, as well as excellent atmospheric lighting by Tony Anselmo and skilled sound design by Jenn Ciavarella.

The actors are especially impressive here, with Meyers and Kargus play against one another particularly well as the belligerent brothers, Coleman and Valene. Their strong personalities are well-realized, as is their sharp sense of comic timing and physicality. There’s also superb work from Drury as the self-doubting Father Welsh, who provides much of the emotional heart of the play, and Geisz as the feisty Girleen is also strong, especially in her scenes with Drury. The pacing is strong, as well, and the whole cast brings a sense of energy to the production that adds much to its entertainment value, as well as it’s occasionally thought-provoking themes.

McDonagh’s plays are often crass, sometimes gory, and definitely not for all ages, but this one has a degree of emotional resonance that I haven’t seen in some of his other dark comedies. Dark, physical, and frequently irreverent comedy is still at the forefront here, but there’s a level of depth that makes this play especially intriguing. As performed by a first rate cast at WEPG, The Lonesome West is certainly worth checking out.

Ted Drury, Hannah Geisz
Photo by John Lamb
West End Players Guild

West End Players Guild is presenting The Lonesome West at Union Avenue Christian Church until May 8, 2022

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Off the Map
By Joan Ackermann
Directed by Robert Ashton
West End Players Guild
September 27th, 2014

Bob NIckles, Julia Monsey Photo by John Lamb West End Players Guild

Bob NIckles, Julia Monsey
Photo by John Lamb
West End Players Guild

West End Players Guild is starting off its new season with an offbeat dramedy about an unconventional family.  Off the Map is a strange play in that it’s not particularly easy to follow, although WEPG’s production is particularly notable for its excellent cast and strong production values. It’s an entertaining production of what strikes me as a difficult play to produce.

The story is told in a flashback format, in which the adult Bo (Kate Weber) narrates the story of a particularly eventful time in her life, as well as the lives of  her unconventional family. The time period isn’t clearly stated, although based on the set and the music that plays before the play starts, it appears to be the early 1970’s. Young Bo (Julia Monsey) is an imaginative, ambitious girl whose main aim in life is to see the world beyond her family’s desert homestead in New Mexico.  Bo’s family is determinedly out of line with most of society–they live “off the map” and and rely on bartering, hunting, gardening and scavenging at the local dump to maintain their existence.  Bo’s father, Charley (John Foughty), is a Korean War veteran and handyman who is battling with a crippling depression. Her mother, Arlene (Paula Stoff Dean) is an enterprising free-spirit who hunts bears and gardens in the nude.  Charley’s friend George (Matt Hanify) is a gentle soul who is frustrated by his best friend’s depression, and IRS auditor William Gibbs (Bob Nickles) is the bewildered outsider who is at once puzzled and fascinated by this family.  It’s a somewhat disjointed story of how this family learns to deal with their various issues and learn from one another, as well as influencing the life of outsider William, and giving Bo a new perspective on her own life goals.

The structure of this show is somewhat clunky and uneven.  It’s not just episodic–some of the episodes don’t seem to make much sense. The adult Bo wanders in and out of the action, sometimes as a commentator, and sometimes merely observing, and the pacing is very leisurely at times. I found myself imagining how this story might work as a movie, only to discover later that the story was adapted into a film. in 2003. I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know what it was like, but I can’t help but think cinema is a better format for this story, because on stage it often comes across as disjointed and confusing, with far too many scene changes and odd blackouts.  Although the older Bo is offering commentary on the events, her presence doesn’t add a lot to the story, except at the very end when she offers some revelations about what happened to the characters after the play’s events, and some of those revelations seem unearned.  Still, it’s an intriguing character study with very interesting roles and situations, and the excellent cast makes it entertaining.

As the younger Bo, Julia Monsey makes the most of a difficult character.  Bo’s actions and attitudes can be selfish and annoying at times. but Monsey makes her interesting and likeable despite occasional enunciation issues.  Her interactions with her parents and particuarly with George and William are particularly effective. Weber is convincing as the older Bo, making her believable as an older version of Monsey’s character. Hanify as George is sympathetic and charming in an offbeat way, and Nickles delivers an unpolished but eventually engaging performance as William, excelling especially in a particularly poignant scene with Charley in which he deals with some confusing childhood memories and emotions. The most memorable performances, however, are those of Dean and Foughty, who command the stage whenever they are on and display excellent chemistry in their scenes together.  Dean manages to bring much warmth and humanity to her character’s eccentricity, and Foughty is especially affecting as a man who has become at odds with his family and with himself, as he struggles to both understand and overcome his depression. The performances of this excellent cast manage to overcome the somewhat inscrutable script and bring humor, drama and sympathy to the performance.

This production also benefits from an excellently realized set, designed by Mark Wilson, and John “JT” Taylor’s striking lighting design.  The look and atmosphere of the desert locale are also enhanced by Tracey Newcomb’s costumes and Jackie Aumer’s props.  This production makes the most of WEPG’s somewhat difficult performance space, utilizing the stage in the most effective way I’ve seen.

Director Robert Ashton and the impressive cast have succeeded in making a difficult show effectively engaging.  WEPG has taken a risk in producing this difficult script to begin the season.  The resulting production makes the risk worthwhile, and it’s worth seeing for the overall atmosphere as well as the strong performances.  It’s an intriguing start to a new season for West End Player’s Guild.

 

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