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Review: 'A Skull in Connemara' at Theatre Tribe

January 29, 2009 |  2:31 pm

A_skull_in_connemara_2If Beckett had written a police procedural, it might feel a lot like “A Skull in Connemara,” Martin McDonagh’s absurdist murder mystery now receiving its Los Angeles premiere at Theatre Tribe.

There’s not much to do in rural Galway besides drink, play bingo and die. In fact, enough people drop dead that the local gravedigger, Mick (Morlan Higgins), has to clear out the churchyard every seven years to make room for fresh corpses. It’s a ritual that troubles his drinking partner, old Maryjohnny (Jenny O’Hara); the local cop (John K. Linton) and his half-wit younger brother, Mairtin (Jeff Kerr McGivney) -- especially since they all suspect Mick of bashing in his wife’s skull and disguising the crime as an auto accident. What revelations might come to light when her bones are unearthed?

Because this is a McDonagh play, a juicy mystery like that is only a bit of misdirection for the real subject at hand: Ireland’s relentless appetite for self-destruction. The playwright both relishes and loathes these rubberneckers with small, sour lives who feed on other people’s misfortune like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Maryjohnny, sharing a glass with Mick in his dank, spartan cottage, rants about the schoolchildren who called her “a fat oul biddy.” Mick: “That was 27 years ago.”

Director Stuart Rogers’ production is terrifically entertaining, and the cast works McDonagh’s deadpan rhythms masterfully. Higgins may have the most watchable face in all of Los Angeles theater, and McGivney’s Mairtin operates with a kind of giddy comic logic that recalls Harpo Marx. The show also features one of the more ingenious set designs you’re likely to see this season, courtesy of Jeff McLaughlin.

What’s missing, however, is a sense of suspense or menace, the kind of dark momentum that powered “Beauty Queen of Leenane.” It’s a comedy, you say, but “Skull” can be too clever by half, and Rogers leans on the laughs at the expense of tonal variation. Plenty of gallows humor here — at one point the stage is littered with human bones — but only the final image revisits the delicious uncertainty of the play’s premise. McDonagh’s Connemara: Funny place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to die there.

— Charlotte Stoudt

“A Skull in Connemara,” Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Feb 28. $20. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 2 hours.

Caption: Morlan Higgins, Jeff Kerr McGivney and Jenny O'Hara in "A Skull in Connemara." Credit: Sara Shapley