THE LONESOME WEST

Cave Canem at Pacific Theatre, October 21 - November 11

My Two Pence

My Two Cents

By Liz Gloucester 

The Lonesome West is the blackest of black comedy. The production and artistic team have taken the best asset they have at their disposal – Martin McDonagh's unsurpassable text – and thrust it unapologetically into the two faces of audience at the Pacific Theatre.

The combined talents of John Voth, Kenton Klassen, Paige Louter and Sebastien Archibald lend themselves to a mesmerizing performance which sucks the audience up, chews them around for a bit and spits them back out dazed but not confused. Moments of immense sensitivity are juxtaposed with excellent comedic timing and four sets of tongues with razor sharp wit.

The tale is that of two warring brothers; Coleman and Valene, whose violent daily lives together border on the cartoonish, and the 'maudlin' Father Welsh that tries to intervene and encourage them to forgive each other their years of wrongdoing.

During Act One we are treated to the many weird and wonderful ways in which the brothers wind each other up both mentally and physically. The stage fighting is a fierce combination of raging truth and anarchic slapstick worthy of an eighties sitcom. Voth and Klassen carry resentment around like it's going out of style and their sibling rivalry is highly credible. Furthermore something quite miraculous is achieved within the first few minutes - two characters who are pretty unlikeable gain a ton of audience appreciation.

After the intermission we dive into the eye of the storm, to a calm scene. It's nighttime and Girleen (Louter) stumbles across Father Welsh (Archibald) sat on a bench staring out at a lake where countless men have committed suicide. Both have an intense longing to share a dark secret, but as neither do, the conversation skirting around the fact is powerful and weighty. It is intensely human. Up to this point local bootlegger school girl Girleen has appeared pretty bad-ass and keen to be one of the boys, however at the beginning of Act Two Louter shows a softer side and pours vulnerability onto the little bench. Her delivery is spot-on and welcome feminine balm amidst the testosterone.

After accepting Father Welsh's advice, the ultimate scene of the play is a chess match of admission; a competition of one-upmanship where the brothers confess their hate crimes against one another. The stakes rise higher and higher from the petty bickering of childish pranks to more sinister infractions. Without their referee to guide them it could go on forever. But it won't. The production closes on November 11th. It's offensive, stirring and hilarious. Go. Now.

By Daphne Cranbrook

 

If you know Martin McDonagh’s work—the films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, and the plays The Pillowman and The Cripple of Inishmaan, among many others—you’ll know he doesn’t shy away from the taboo. No subject is off-limits for McDonagh, and much of his content is cringe-worthy in its dark hilarity. Pacific Theatre’s The Lonesome West delivers on all that delicious McDonagh depravity. It’s the kind of play that has you laughing to keep from crying, in the best possible way.

 

As a guest production from Cave Canem—a group of artists and former apprentices of Pacific Theatre—The Lonesome West follows two brothers living in the Irish countryside who seem to have no moral compass by which they live. Their frustrated priest, Father Welsh (or is it Walsh?), is desperate to put an end to their constant bickering in the wake of the murder of their father.

 

Kenton Klassen and John Voth as the brothers Coleman and Valene were ridiculous and shameful and utterly entertaining. I sensed some hesitation on their part (opening night jitters, perhaps?) that kept them from letting go and delving completely into the world of the play, but I did enjoy watching them go head-to-head, round after round. Paige Louter’s work playing Girleen Kelleher was beautifully honest in its approach. I appreciated watching her portray a character whose arc is unexpected and heartbreaking. Father Welsh, the desperate, put-upon priest of the parish was played to a tee by Sebastien Archibald. Archibald has the gift of comedic timing, something that cannot be undervalued in a play with a twist in every sentence. I was drawn in by his full inhabitation of Father Welsh; even in his most absurd moments, there was a truth to his performance that was captivating.

 

And what would an Irish show be without some Irish pub rock? Matthew MacDonald-Bain and Curtis Tweedie crafted a near-perfect soundtrack for ushering in the grit and richness of the Emerald Isle. With Phil Miguel’s understated expertise in lighting and Sandy Margaret’s thoughtful and precise set design, the evocation of a shabby home of two bachelors was successful.

 

The Lonesome West brings a challenge with its physicality, props work, and special effects, and this is especially the case in an intimate alley theatre space such as Pacific’s. There isn’t much room for error and the audience can tell if you’re faking a punch or a hair-grab. I was generally impressed with the cast’s ability to commit and pull off the fight scenes and other action onstage that involved precise timing and purposeful movement. Hats off to Josh Reynolds for choreographing movement that would work for the space and the actors.

 

All of these separate efforts came together beautifully under the deft and subtle hand of director Evan Frayne. Frayne managed to skillfully wean the bombastic from the ridiculous which isn’t an easy feat when going for cheap laughs can be so appealing. His direction allowed the characters to become believable instead of over-the-top, and it served the production well.

 

Full disclosure: I am a huge Martin McDonagh fan. I find his work clever, challenging, insightful, and damn hilarious. I had high hopes for this show, and was pleased to find my expectations satisfied. As with many brilliant scripts, it’s basically up to the actors and production team to take a well-written play and screw it up; lucky for Cave Canem, they didn’t. If you’re looking for a night of laughs and you’re willing to risk feeling the need to sink down into your seat and cover your eyes from the inappropriateness of it all: see this show.