Theater & art


‘The Lonesome West’ captures desolation

Bringing dark humor to light

Derry Woodhouse and Lisa O’Brien in Tir Na Theatre’s production of “The Lonesome West’’ at Davis Square Theatre.
Susan Wilson
Derry Woodhouse and Lisa O’Brien in Tir Na Theatre’s production of “The Lonesome West’’ at Davis Square Theatre.

Out in Leenane, a little town in the west of Ireland, the bodies are piling up in a rash of murders and suicides. Brothers Coleman and Valene Connor have just buried their dad, who met a bad end with a shotgun. An accident, supposedly, but the truth behind his gory demise fuels the brothers’ bitter, profane, petty, and violent struggles.

“I think people will really find it to be a riot,” says Colin Hamell, artistic director of Tir Na Theatre.

Hamell plays Coleman opposite Billy Meleady as Valene in the Tir Na production of Martin McDonagh’s “The Lonesome West,” opening Thursday at the Davis Square Theatre.


“It’s kind of dark stuff, and the language and way they relate is dark, but it’s actually just very funny,” says Hamell, who grew up near Dublin but has been based in Boston for most of two decades. “I don’t think the audience is going to be saddened. They may be shocked, but I think they’ll be laughing at how ridiculous it all is.”

Janet Knott/globe staff/file 1997
There will be a tribute to the late theater director David Wheeler on Monday at the Loeb Drama Center.
Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Coleman is heavyset and slobby, while Valene is wound-up, fussy, and anal-retentive, a collector of religious figurines. They’re a Connemarra Oscar and Felix. Valene ended up owning everything in the family home after their father’s demise, and Coleman works hard to annoy him at every turn.

“When one isn’t around, the other one misses him, even though they’re constantly at each other’s throats and bickering over the smallest mundane things, like ‘Stop reading my magazine,’ ” Hamell says. “But if anyone else comes into the house and has a problem with one brother, the other sticks up for him. Blood is thicker than water.”

Coming in to trouble them this time is Father Welsh (Derry Woodhouse), who has been hitting the poteen pretty hard to cope with the gruesome tragedies in his parish, not to mention Coleman’s occasional zingers about the church sex-abuse scandal. The priest tries to broker some sort of truce between the brothers, but it’s tough going.

Girleen Kelleher’s flirting with the priest doesn’t make his path any easier. Hamell said the Irish teen was the one part he couldn’t find the right actress for in Boston, and he ended up casting Lisa O’Brien from New York.


The Connor family and their neighbors are distinctly of western Ireland, Hamell says.

“Life has always been tougher in the west of Ireland because the land isn’t great for agriculture, and the infrastructure is not as good as the Midlands or Dublin, even today. It’s a very beautiful part of the country, but during the winter there, there’s just not a whole lot going on,” Hamell says. “You spend a lot of time on your own, looking at stone walls and talkin’ to donkeys, you know? So people develop a certain personality in the west.”

“The Lonesome West,” first produced in 1997, is part of McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy, which also includes “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “A Skull in Connemara.” But Hamell likens the tone of “The Lonesome West” more to that of McDonagh’s darkly comic script for the film “In Bruges,” which was nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay.

Hamell played Coleman a decade ago, in a Sugan Theatre Company production that was also directed by Carmel O’Reilly.

“It’s wicked funny, wicked in every sense of the word,” says O’Reilly.


This time around, she says, she’s become especially enthused about the dialogue, which, while thickly spackled with expletives, also revels in a sort of brutish poetry.

“To me it’s a kind of McDonagh-speak,” she says. “Although no one in the west of Ireland actually speaks that way, he has captured the strange syntax, the love of the language.”

She cites Coleman’s description of a girl he once knew as looking “like a thin-lipped ghost, with the hairstyle of a frightened red ape.” But that can’t top Valene’s insult to Coleman, “Your sex appeal wouldn’t buy the phlegm off a dead frog.” Coleman replies that he is entitled to his opinion.

Tir Na was founded in 2008 and is best known for its 2010 production of “Trad’’ by Mark Doherty at the Boston Center for the Arts. In the Davis Square Theatre, where audience members sit on three sides of the stage, the company has found the perfect place for bringing theatergoers into the brothers’ world, Hamell says.

“You really, really feel like you’re sitting in the house with them,” he adds, as if he’s quite sure that’s something people will want.

David Wheeler memorial to be held on Monday

A public memorial for director David Wheeler is scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m. at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge. Wheeler, a hugely important figure in Boston theater history, died Jan. 4 at age 86, of respiratory and heart failure.

As a founder and artistic director of the Theatre Company of Boston in the 1960s and ’70s, Wheeler worked with Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and many others. He was a resident director at the American Repertory Theater in the 1980s and ’90s. His final production was “The Book of Grace’’ at Company One last year.

His son, Lewis D. Wheeler, says that among the many speakers at the memorial will be Robert Brustein and actor Paul Guilfoyle, a Theatre Company of Boston alum. Blythe Danner may also speak, according to the ART, and Brustein will present David Wheeler posthumously with the Robert Brustein Award for “a lifetime of devotion to and sustained excellence in the theater.” The award was supposed to be given to the director during the ART’s annual gala in February. His son will accept the award on his behalf.

The memorial will also include photos and videos of David Wheeler in interviews and at work, including a seven-minute short film about him made by director Joyce Chopra and shown on WGBH-TV in 1976, Lewis D. Wheeler said. A reception will follow.

RSVPs are requested at www.americanrepertory

Joel Brown can be reached at

Correction: Because of a production error, a photo of Tir Na Theatre’s ‘‘The Lonesome West’’ in an earlier version of this story did not credit the photographer, Susan Wilson.