book (play script) review: A Skull in Connemara by Martin McDonagh

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A SKULL IN CONNEMARA by Martin McDonagh
★★★☆☆
Heinemann, 1997

 

A Skull in Connemara is playwright-director Martin McDonagh’s second play in his Leenane trilogy – three unrelated plays set in the same Irish village. It follows Mick Dowd, who each year disinters bones from the local cemetery to make way for new arrivals. When he’s forced to dig up the remains of his late wife, questions arise about his possible involvement in her death.

What I enjoyed about A Skull in Connemara is exactly what I enjoy about all of McDonagh’s plays: morally corrupt characters, the banality of small-town life highlighted with humor and irony, morbid humor, razor sharp dialogue. I mean:

MAIRTIN: What kind of questions, Mary beag?
MARY: Questions about where did he put our Padraig when he dug him up is the kind of question, and where did he put our Bridgit when he dug her up is the kind of question, and where did he put my poor ma and da when he dug them up is the biggest question!
MAIRTIN: Where did you put all Mary’s relations, Mick, then, now? The oul bones and the whatnot.

That’s pretty great.

Anyway, this isn’t one of McDonagh’s stronger stories. His characters aren’t as well-developed as usual – the relationships between them and their motivations remain hazy, and the result is that I’m just not as invested as I’d like to be. In typical McDonagh fashion, his characters are all distinct and wacky, but none here are as memorable as Katurian from The Pillowman or Padriac from The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Maybe the right cast and the right production could breathe some life into this. I enjoyed reading it well enough, it was an entertaining enough way to spend an hour, and the final scene was definitely thought-provoking, but there was a certain lack of gravitas that McDonagh usually is able to incorporate into his black comedies. The biggest problem here is that the stakes in this play are low and they feel low, and I know McDonagh can do better.

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