SKULL IN CONNEMARA
by Martin McDonagh
Western Theatre Conspiracy
Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island
604-257-0366 or www.festivalboxoffice.com
Martin McDonagh won’t likely win any awards from chambers
of commerce or bureaus of tourism in the remote northwest of
Ireland where he sets his bleak, violent comedies of contemporary
Irish life. But the plays themselves, including The
Cripple of Inishmaan and The
Beauty Queen of Leenane, have garnered multiple
prizes and made McDonagh, a Londoner born to Irish parents, hugely
Often compared to Irish master playwright John Synge for his
plays’ ironies, settings and rich dialect, McDonagh cites
as his actual models David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino. A
Skull in Connemara shows the influence of all three, capturing small-time
Irish men and women through the prism of booze and blarney, petty
ambition, casual violence and hilariously absurd dialogue.
Richard Wolfe’s Western Theatre Conspiracy production brings
McDonagh’s world vividly alive in all its dark comic grotesquery.
Rural Connemara is nowheresville, a place so backward that
once every year Mick Dowd (William Samples) digs up the bones
dead from the local churchyard to make room for new corpses.
This year’s bones include those of his own wife, killed
seven years earlier in an accident caused by his “drink
Mostly, Mick sits in his shack drinking poteen and gossiping
with neighbour Maryjohnny (Wendy Morrow Donaldson), a bingo addict
who sells “idjit Yanks” phony memorabilia from a
locally shot John Wayne movie. Mick’s assistant at the
graveyard is Maryjohnny’s feckless, angry, none too bright
teenage grandson Mairtin (Johann Helf), whose claim to fame is
once having cooked a live hamster. They’re joined by Mairtin’s
bullying older brother (Adam Henderson), a constable who aspires
to solve major crimes like his TV idol, Quincy.
Mysteries abound, including rumours that Mick’s wife’s
death might have been murder. But where is her body? And whatever
happens to those bones after he digs them up?
The plot takes some delirious twists and turns but the main
pleasures of this piece are its gloriously absurd language and
The churchyard scene evokes Shakespeare’s gravediggers
unearthing Yorick’s skull. But instead of Hamlet’s
philosophizing, McDonagh has Mairtin thoughtfully observing, “You
can stick yer fingers right in their eyes,” and wondering, “Where
does yer t’ing go when you die?”
Later, we watch Mick demonstrate how to avoid drowning in your
own vomit when you go to bed drunk, and hear an argument about
whether you can write out a murder confession with a fluorescent
The acting is terrific, especially by the three men who deliver
all the comic colours of the richly vulgar colloquial speech
with its “feckin’” this and “feckin’” that.
Kudos to David Roberts’ moody set with its working graveyard
and to stage manager Anne Taylor who has to rebury the dead after
every show and clean up the shards of skulls smashed to smithereens
in the drunken orgy of violence that pretty much sums up a typical
Saturday night in Connemara.