The Ruskin Group Theatre Company has always been on my periphery. I have seen their flyers and ads all over town. It is a wonderful space, crammed with professional memorabilia with some of the finest actors working today. The classes are of the Ruskin School taught by John Ruskin – the Sanford Meisner technique – with acting teachers like Anthony Hopkins, Ed Asner, Benda Vaccarro, and Bruce Davison, all top notch professionals giving back to the craft.
So after thirty years in town, why have I not been to this theatre? One, I don’t know. Two, this didn’t strike me as a theatre where I would enjoy watching a performance. I supposed there would be a lot of airport noise during the performance. It’s right off the runway and why would I want my theatre to be interrupted by John Travolta’s noisy jet flying over. Thankfully, I heard none of that.
But, all those little things are pushed aside when one enters the theatre. It is a glorious space and a place to do some serious work. It has that “theatre vibe”. The thing that makes one shiver when entering the space.
By all accounts, it is a very nice theatre in a truss structure that one would find near an airport. Looking up above the hanging lights, I noticed yellow paint peeling from the ceiling. Lead based or not, one doesn’t know.
The Ruskin Group Theatre presents Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West directed by Mike Reilly. It is a magnificent show, with marvelous actors, in a showcase that cries out to the theatre going public: COME! GO! COME AND THEN GO! GO and then LEAVE!
There is something for everyone in this show. You want your comedy? Done. You want your drama? Done. You want a sexy girl running around in a schoolgirl’s uniform? Done. And you want to see Irish brothers knocking the “feck” out of each other? Also done.
The play begins in the bucolic farming community of Leenane, Connemara, County Galway, in the mid-western part of Ireland.
Coleman Conner (Jason Paul Field) trudges into his home. He is in his funeral attire. The backside of his pants looks to be recently dog bitten and is torn below his “arse,” exposing a four inch section of pocket and leg. Coleman climbs on a chair and reaches for a “bottle”. He has just laid the bullet-riddled body of his father to rest.
His home, wonderfully designed by Cliff Wagner, isn’t much to look at. In fact, it is very modest. Call it, rustic poverty. The walls have the appearance of being painted long ago with a dash of food and drink sloshed on to give it that extra lived in look. The dining room has a banged up table downstage right. Adorned on the table is a worn and tattered lace tablecloth covering another shredded brown tablecloth.
Upstage center is a bedroom door with a large “V” scrawled in the middle. There are two unmatching chairs facing one another, a chest of drawers up stage center that has religious plastic figurines equally spaced. The letter “V” emblazoned somewhere on them with a black marker. And the figurines are evenly lined on a homemade shelf and on mantle piece.
Above the mantle piece hangs a large Crucifix and below the crucifix is a doubled—barreled shotgun. The shotgun is, in fact, the shotgun Coleman used to kill his father. One finger across two triggers was all it took.
It was an accident, of course.
Following Coleman is his priest, Father Welsh (Conor Walshe), who leaves the door open for Valene Conner (Tom O’Leary), Coleman’s brother.
“You’ll have a drink with me you will?” – Coleman
“I will, Coleman, so.” – Welsh
And as they start to drink, we find out a couple of things about the Father Welsh and Coleman.
First of all, Coleman is a disagreeable sot. He doesn’t want to share his liquor with anyone. And to top things off it’s not even his liquor, it belongs to Valene. He tells Father Welsh if anyone asks; tell him you asked for the drink.
Secondly, Father Welsh is a bit of an alcoholic himself. The simple act of pouring makes his lips wet. He enjoys the sinful taste of liquor and he blames the village for his seedy acts of corruption. He’s also got a lot of problems with his faith. It seems that he is not a good religious fit with the village and each day that he’s there is a day closer to purgatory.
And like a bug that rears his ugly head out of a hole, Coleman looks for fight. He prefers to fight his brother, Valene, because at this point that’s all the family he’s got.
They are two ornery men in their thirties with no women and no prospects, now and forever.
“He did come in pegging orders for a drink, now. What was I supposed to say to him, him just sticking Dad in the ground for us?” - Coleman
“Your own you could’ve given him so.” – Valene
“And wasn’t I about to ‘til I up and discovered me cupboard was bare.” – Coleman
It is here that we learn Valene is holding on to the purse strings. Their father left what little money and belongings he had to Valene and to top that off, there is insurance check on the way with Valene’s name on it.
Trying to keep these two boys in line is troublesome but Father Welsh is also having some problems with his community. There is a lot of murdering going on in Father Welsh’s parish. He is dispirited and has cause for his spiritual concerns. And it pains him when the members of his parish use him as a whipping boy.
“A great parish it is you run, one of them murdered his misses, an axe through her head, the other her mammy, a poker took her brains out…” – Valene
Father Welsh recognizes that he is a “terrible priest” and runs a terrible Parrish where everyone confesses to drink and betting on the horses but no one confesses to murder. And to top that off, he coaches a girls’ football team, which is world renown for being despicable and notorious. Ten red cards in one game, I mean, come on!
Girleen (Rachel Noll) joins the party. She is seventeen years old and pulls out two bottles of poteen, an Irish moonshine, for Valene. Valene tries to stiff her without success. She is there to deliver a letter that a lurid postman gave her to put into Valene’s greedy hands.
Wearing a schoolgirl’s uniform showing a bare midriff, she bends over the counter and in front of Father Welsh…
“That postman fancies me, d’you know? I think he’d like to be getting into me knickers, in fact I’m sure of it.” - Girleeen
Valene then opens the letter and waives the check in front of Coleman, which starts a huge fight. Father Welsh, in drunken desperation, leaves and Girleen follows him out the door as the two brothers continue to roll on the floor. And while they are locked in brotherly love, we get a piece of information that is shocking to us but not shocking to the boys.
Later, Valene buys a stove with the insurance money. There’s only one problem, he doesn’t cook, doesn’t want to cook, can’t even boil water, besides there is no food in the house. And he won’t let Coleman touch his stove.
This is a wonderful show with an amazing cast. The actors all have strong characters and they are all committed with strong objectives. This style of acting is exciting and wonderful to watch.
Jason Paul Field as Coleman gives a grand performance. As the character, his hair flies on end in different directions and is the main reason that his father is lying dead. With only drink and Tayto’s to live on, he lives the life of extreme poverty. (In the dictionary under poverty, you might see his picture.) He drinks and he is hungry. He has no visible means of support other than the meager scraps he steals from his brother. He lives his life to extreme in the hopes that something will come from it. What? He is not so sure.
Jonathon Bray as Valene did some amazing work on stage as well. His character has lived a life well past his prime. He wears a suit much too short and tight. Something he bought long ago but supposes that it is still a natural fit. He plows along giving little regard to the little things like, food. He is a little “touched” in that he thinks buying religious figurines will get him that much closer to God. But like his brother, he enjoys a good emotional and physical fight. He has to be careful that these fights don’t get completely out of hand or he may find himself mistakenly on the bad end of an Irish wake.
Conor Walshe was outstanding as Father Welsh. He is prudish by appearance and there’s not a hair out of place. But Father Welsh has some deep demons. He loves to drink. He is also torn by the amount of murders in his parish, family killing family, casting doubts on his effectiveness as a Catholic Priest. His eyes give away too much. His doubts send him deeper and deeper into despair. It seems he had a dream to save the world one day, but the church has forsaken him and sent him off into a journey that he didn’t want to take. When he finds the truth, he takes it to heart and becomes a broken man. Not wanting to give anything away, he sends Girleen with a letter to the boys to straighten up and fly right. The letter makes no difference. This is a wonderful role and a remarkable performance.
Rachel Noll was the perfect fit for Girleen. She plays with the boys but she knows what she wants and knows how to get it. But strangely enough, she doesn’t get Father Welsh; she doesn’t see the pain he is going through. He is the only good thing in her life. In this town, eager to fight, she is not one to sit back and let things happen to her. She will fight for what she believes is right even if the right thing is Father Welsh.
Mike Reilly does a fantastic job directing. It is exciting with never a dull moment. His direction gives us a magnificent and meticulous display of the physical life of the characters. The characters kiss and make up one minute and are eager to tear the head off each other the next. Either way, the stage life is grand and very physical. All of the characters are thoroughly developed with meticulous detail to character all of which have a rich emotional life. Everything thing works. The play works. We as an audience get it.
Martin McDonagh’s writing is exceptional in every regard. He tells us the characters are evil and angels all in one single entity. There is no good or bad, there is only the perception of good and bad. The writing is fluid. It has a course. There is no mother or the mention of their mother. Maybe she fled long ago. It makes perfect sense by the way they treat each other. Or maybe that’s just an “Irish” thing.
Tom O’Leary also plays Valene but was not there this night.
Eva Bloomfield plays Girleen and Jonathon Blandino plays Father Welsh in understudy roles. They did not perform this night.
This show was wonderfully produced by Kenneth Lombino and Maurice Lamarche who are listed as the Executive Producers. Mikey Myers and Conor Walshe also have a “Produced by” credit and again the work was exceptional. The Assistant Director is Nicole Millar. The Set Painter CJ Strawn. The Master Builder is Paul Denk. Judith Borne did the publicity. And Dan Speaker & Jan Byrant did the Fight Choregraphy.
The play could not have been performed with a grand supporting crew to clean up the huge mess the characters leave after every scene change. They did an exceptional job.
Tayto’s were flying everywhere. Some audience members were seen eating the remains of the flying chips from their laps.