Why hasn’t Jerry Bruckheimer franchised “CSI: Leenane”? According to playwright Martin McDonagh, this grim Irish townland has a rampant mortality rate. In “The Lonesome West,” now in revival at the Ruskin Group Theatre Company, the corpse count rises -- unfortunately much faster than the play’s dramatic momentum.
We open after a funeral: Coleman (Jason Paul Field) shot dear old Da in the head, passing the murder off as an accident. His brother, Valene (Tom O’Leary, alternating with Jonathon Bray), agrees to keep his mouth shut if Coleman forfeits his entire inheritance. Their biblical standoff becomes increasingly untenable, with Coleman loitering around the grungy homestead vandalizing Valene’s precious plastic saint collection and begging for crisps.
Enter depressive Father Welsh (Conor Walshe), whose crises of faith are as frequent as these filial skirmishes. The cleric makes a surprising wager, betting his own soul that Coleman and Valene would rather make peace than let him go to the devil.
It’s a delicious premise, but McDonagh hasn’t delivered on it. Unlike “The Lieutenant of Inishmore," with its ruthless efficiency, “West” suffers from lazy storytelling. The intimate space at the Ruskin is ideal for this claustrophobic tale, yet no amount of careful scene work by director Mike Reilly can disguise McDonagh’s shoddy construction. The pleasures here are specific: O’Leary’s serial killer smile and stiff black suit; the forbidden romance between Father Welsh and tomboy Girleen (Rachel Noll); and above all the brothers’ ritualistic life of recriminations, drinking and brawling (the fight choreography is by Dan Speaker and Jan Bryant). Just imagine what human stains a forensic team might find on their cottage floor.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
“The Lonesome West,” Ruskin Group Theatre Company, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 4. $25. (310) 397-3244 or www.ruskingrouptheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Photo: Tom O’Leary, below, and Jason Paul Field in “The Lonesome West.” Credit: John DiCindis.