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Theater Review

Brotherly Rage in 'Lonesome West'


Humor is a funny thing. What sends one person on a laughing jag might not elicit even the trace of a grin from the person sitting next to him. Case in point: Martin McDonagh's "The Lonesome West," in its earnest if less than ideal Los Angeles premiere at An Claidheamh Soluis/The Celtic Arts Center.

In "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," "A Skull in Connemara," "The Lonesome West" and "The Cripple of Inishmaan," McDonagh--the English-born son of Irish parents--has spun larger-than-life tales in which fake-rustic Irish characters natter at one another in a fake-rustic Irish dialect. The work has earned him comparisons to J.M. Synge and Sean O'Casey, but it has also left a lot of people scratching their heads.

"The Lonesome West" is set in Leenane, in western Ireland's County Galway. Several recent deaths there have come violently, at the hands of family members, causing the parish priest to lament, "It seems like God has no jurisdiction in this town."

An outward show of religion is made in the Connor household, where a crucifix hangs above the mantelpiece. So does a shotgun, which, in the hands of one of the Connor sons, took the life of the family patriarch. It seems destined for reuse as Father Welsh (Jason McCune) pays a post-funeral visit to squabbling Coleman (John McKenna) and Valene (Steve Gunning).

Much of the action is given over to the brothers' bellowed games of one-upmanship. McDonagh half-heartedly tries to inject some meaning by having the priest say, "If it's your own brother you can't get on with, how can we ever hope for peace in the world?" But mostly, this is just one big joke.

In McCune, the production has an endearingly well-intentioned if pathetically ineffectual Father Welsh. As the snowy-haired brothers, however, McKenna and Gunning only intermittently hit the peaks of rage the script demands of them. Their wrestling matches look unconvincing, and director Thom MacNamara has yet to coach them past the hesitancy that hamstrings their rush toward the climactic moment of violence.

"The Lonesome West," An Claidheamh Soluis/The Celtic Arts Center, 4843 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 28. $15. (818) 760-8322. Running time: 2 hours.

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