Review: “…& “A Skull in Connemara” at PICT”

by Wendy Arons, The Pittsburgh Tatler

A Skull in Connemara (which opened at PICT this past weekend and plays through September 28) offers a very different, blackly humorous exploration of guilt and its effect on the human soul and psyche.  One of the plays in Martin McDonagh’s “Leenane trilogy,” the play paints a decidedly non-naturalistic portrait of a small Irish community and the sins, failures, and rages of its inhabitants. At the heart of the story is Mick Dowd, who caused the death of his wife over seven years previously in a “drink-driving” accident. Others in the community suspect that the accident was something more sinister, and when the corner of the churchyard in which she is buried comes up in the rotation to be exhumed (to make way for new burials in the cramped cemetery), the disappearance of her remains brings new secrets to light. It would give away an important plot point to say more at this point, so I’ll leave it to my gentle readers to high themselves over to the Stephen Foster to see how the mystery unravels.

From left: James Keegan as Mick, Sharon Brady as Maryjohnny, & Alec Silberblatt as Mairtin in the PICT production of “A Skull in Connemara.” Photo courtesy of PICT; photographer: Suellen Fitzsimmons

From left: James Keegan as Mick, Sharon Brady as Maryjohnny, & Alec Silberblatt as Mairton in the PICT production of “A Skull in Connemara.” Photo courtesy of PICT; photographer: Suellen Fitzsimmons

In fact, however, the main interest in this play lies not in the whodunit or whydunit, but in its simultaneously loving and scathing depictions of small-town Irish characters, and in its darkly comic exploration of human desires and resentments. The play is brutally, acidly funny as it picks at the scabs of people who have little to live for now and even less to aspire towards in the future. And the production is the best of PICT’s season so far this year.  Under Martin Giles’s deft direction the ensemble creates a world of believable exaggeration in which the cruelest of actions is at once horrifying and hilarious. The design—sets by Gianni Downs, lights by Chris Popowich, costumes by Rachel S. Parent, and sound by Joe Pino—puts us in a world just a shade beyond the real into the cartoon, just right for the play’s own “blown-large” quality. The cast is terrific. James Keegan is marvelous as Mick Dowd, convincing as a man seemingly tough on the surface, but beset by demons underneath. Sharon Brady’s sour penurious Maryjohnny Rafferty is spot-on, and Alec Silberblatt brings a manic energy to the hapless young “eejit” Mairton Hanlon (although he seemed to struggle most with the accent work). As Thomas Hanlon, a cop who aspires to detective glory, Jason McCune rounds out the ensemble with a performance that goes just the right distance towards caricature.

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