book (play script) review: The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh


THE LONESOME WEST by Martin McDonagh
originally published in 1997

The Lonesome West is the conclusion to McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy – three unrelated plays all set in the same Irish village. I’ve actually yet to read The Beauty Queen of Leenane, but I much preferred this to A Skull in Connemara. It’s about two brothers living alone after their father’s death, getting into arguments about mundane things that often escalate to physical violence.

Reading this play was a very quintessentially McDonagh experience: tension is high, but broken by dark, irreverent humor, and characters are all pretty much terrible people, and it should be irrevocably bleak for that, but there’s an undeniable quality of tenderness. As always, McDonagh doesn’t offer redemption or resolution. His stories are never about villains becoming heroes. But there’s still a glimpse of hope, that maybe people can change – certainly not in the course of a two-hour long play, but maybe eventually.

The dialogue in The Lonesome West was as witty and biting as ever, but there was also such an openness and honesty to it that I found refreshing. This exchange in particular struck me as rather beautiful in its simplicity, and as always I love McDonagh’s use of dialect. Seeing his plays performed live is obviously the ideal, but reading them still feels like a sensory experience.

WELSH. We should be scared of their ghosts so but we’re not scared. Why’s that?
GIRLEEN. […] The opposite of that, I do likecemeteries at night.
WELSH. Why, now? Because you’re a morbid oul tough?
GIRLEEN. (Embarrassed throughout.) Not at all. I’m not a tough. It’s because… even if you’re sad or something, or lonely or something, you’re still better off than them lost in the ground or in the lake, because… at least you’ve got the chance of being happy, and even if it’s a real little chance, it’s more than them dead ones have. And it’s not that you’re saying ‘Hah, I’m better than ye,’ no, because in the long run it might end up that you have a worse life than ever they had and you’d’ve been better off as dead as them, there and then. But at least when you’re still here there’s the possibility of happiness, and it’s like them dead ones know that, and they’re happy for you to have it. They say ‘Good luck to ya.’ (Quietly.) Is the way I see it anyways.

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