Share This Page

'Skull in Connemara' offers a lively, ghoulish time

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
Sharon Brady and Alec Silberblatt act out a scene from Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater's play, A Skull in Connemara, in the Charity Randall Theatre.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
James Keegan and Alec Silberblatt act out a scene from Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater's play, A Skull in Connemara.
Gwen Titley | Tribune-Review
James Keegan and Alec Silberblatt act out a scene from Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater's play, A Skull in Connemara.

The Irish have a well-earned reputation for their highly colorful way of expressing themselves.

And playwright Martin McDonagh is second to none for his ability to bring their voices to the stage.

McDonagh's Ireland is not the quaintly cute country of step dancers and leprechauns.

His plays, including “A Skull in Connemara” that Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre is performing through Sept. 28, are set in and around the villages in Ireland's remote west, a sort of Irish Appalachia. Everyone in “A Skull in Connemara” either knows or is related to just about everyone else in the community.

Grudges, slights and wrongdoing remain hot topics for, literally, years and are frequently revived with eloquence and an abundance of dark humor.

Substitute moonshine for poteen, and it's the sort of complex but ordinary folks you might encounter on an episode of FX's “Justified.”

Connemara's residents also may draw their comparisons and metaphors from television characters and personalities. But gossip, rumor and innuendo are the preferred forms of entertainment.

“A Skull in Connemara” gets under way when Mairtin Hanlon, one of Connemara's young nitwits, bursts into Mick Dowd's cottage with the news that he has been hired to assist Dowd with digging up bodies in the church cemetery.

It's an annual task, performed to make room for new bodies in the cemetery's limited space.

What's different about this year is that one of the bodies is Dowd's wife, Oona, who died nearly eight years earlier in a car accident. Dowd was convicted of drunken driving that caused her death.

But town rumors hint at a darker, more sinister cause.

As Dowd and Hanlon get down to work, they unearth more than skulls and bones.

There's an abundance of strong language and some gruesome situations that may offend some, including the disposal of the excavated human remains.

That having been said, McDonagh has a deft hand for mixing the macabre elements with an abundance of dark, ghoulish humor.

Director Martin Giles and the cast of four create a credible world for the action that takes place in its own isolated world.

As Mick Dowd, James Keegan enlivens the character with terse wit, brooding control and eloquent nuances.

Alec Silberblatt's Mairtin Hanlon generates much of the laughter as Dowd's opposite. He's full of groundless self-esteem and youthful entitlement as he babbles endlessly and unthinkingly. His broad physicality and humor begin at full-speed and continue unrelentingly with little room for change of tone.

In supporting roles as the elderly neighbor Maryjohnny Rafferty and police officer Thomas Hanlon, Sharon Brady and Jason McCune help propel the drama to its unexpected conclusion.

Set designer Gianni Downs provides ambiance and utility that put the cemetery and Dowd's home on the Charity Randall Theatre stage and places Oona's grave at its exact center.

Ultimately, McDonagh reveals skullduggery along with the skulls.

But the most satisfying aspect of this darkly funny drama is not found among the dead but in the language and personalities of its living and lively characters.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.