If there is a loaded shotgun hanging on the living room wall just below the crucifix, you sort of get a hint of the kind of household you’ve entered. In Martin McDonagh’s play “The Lonesome West,” currently on-stage at the excellent Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica, the household consists of two Irish brothers who are so contentious that you just know it’s only a matter of time until someone pulls that shotgun off the wall.
McDonagh may be familiar to you as the author of such marvelous plays as “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” “The Cripple of Inishman,” and “A Skull in Connemara,” all of which have had recent highly successful runs in L.A.
“The Lonesome West,” however, is not of that caliber. Presumably it is meant as a black comedy, and there are many funny lines, but overall it is a one-note production. The two brothers, Valene (Tom O’Leary) and Coleman (Jason Paul Field) bicker continuously, by mouth and by fist, over every innocuous comment. The fact that Coleman killed their father over a perceived insult about his hair gives you some idea of the level of their flashpoints.
A despondent young priest, Father Welsh (Conor Walshe) steps in to try to reconcile the brothers. But he has problems of his own. He is an alcoholic with lingering doubts about his faith, and is in despair about the suicides, killings, and immorality among the townspeople.
There is also a local hooker, Girleen (Rachel Noll), who alternates between taunting and tempting Father Welsh, who is ambivalent in his rejection of her.
Director Mike Reilly has steered his players through a series of uneven performances, although that appears to be more the fault of the writing than of the direction. The two brothers have one lively scene in which they attempt to reconcile by acknowledging and apologizing for a lifetime of malicious pranks they had perpetrated on one another. But for the most part their characters are too consistently weird to be credible.
Walshe does as good a job as can be expected from a character and story line that are both under-developed and unconvincing.
And Noll rushes through her lines as though she expects to be interrupted, which makes many of her speeches unintelligible.
And finally, set designer Cliff Wagner and set painter CJ Strawn have created a truly dreary home for the brothers. The living room shelves are covered with a multitude of tiny statues of saints; the cupboards in the kitchen are bare. Further, the walls are splattered randomly with splotches of sickly green and brown, which are largely inexplicable and visually vomitous.
I must admit that my harsh critique of this production stems from my disappointment: McDonagh usually writes thoroughly enjoyable plays and the Ruskin Group Theatre is one of my favorite venues, where until now I’ve never seen a production that wasn’t superb in every way.
“The Lonesome West” will continue at the Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Rd., in Santa Monica Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 31. Call (310) 397-3244 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.