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The Lonesome West

by Martin McDonagh

The Author and the Play

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Author's Comments

Martin McDonagh (born in London in 1970) has been heralded as the shooting star of the contemporary theatre scene on the strength of four published plays alone.

Any amount of praise has been heaped on McDonagh ever since he made his stage debut with The Beauty Queen of Leenane in Galway in 1996. Within a year McDonagh had won a number of prestigious prizes — among them the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright — and in 1997, McDonagh had four plays (The Leenane Trilogy plus The Cripple of Inishmaan) running in London at the same time — a very exceptional occurrence in the history of English theatre. Theatre critics as well as audiences in London (and Dublin, for that matter) perceived in McDonagh's work a new voice, a new quality in Irish drama, which could be described as action-centred, grotesque, manipulative, post-modern even, as regards its ironic potential for deconstruction. McDonagh has been called the "Quentin Tarantino of the Emerald Isle," and another comparison has frequently been made suggesting that McDonagh is doing to contemporary play-writing what The Pogues did to traditional Irish music in the 1980s.

The McDonagh universe has aptly been described as "a colourful surreal Wild West of Ireland, populated by outlaw hillbillies doomed to family murder or desolate suicide. Yet all pitched at a perception-altering satiric level." It is probably on account of the excessive vulgarity of action and language as well as the apparent moral chaos that the image of Ireland conveyed in his plays is pushed to the limits of verisimilitude and credibility. The plays do indeed satirise cliché-ridden representations of Ireland and the Irish, and project an image of the 'hard life' in Ireland that runs counter to a pastoral view of the Emerald Isle as entertained by outsiders (e.g. tourists).

The fact that the plays in McDonagh's Trilogy (The Beauty Queen of Leenane, A Skull in Connemara, The Lonesome West) are all set in the township of Leenane (in the 1990s) has several advantages. Not only does this provide a great degree of thematic coherence in the sense that a microcosm is created by the life-stories of three different families living in contact, however tenuous, with each other. It is also a felicitous dramatic device facilitating exposition and the introduction of characters. By the end of The Beauty Queen of Leenane almost all the dramatis personae of the Trilogy as a whole have been mentioned or pre-figured in some story-context or other, and in each play there are allusions and cross-references to characters which figure only in one or the other of the two remaining plays. Thus, confusion over the pronunciation of the priest's name (Welsh/Walsh/Welsh) is a running gag which already in itself makes for some kind of coherence in this precisely circumscribed microcosm. Likewise, short but effective reminders of past and imminent events such as funerals, suicides, and weddings establish a chronological order by building on an irreversible sequence of events. As a quasi-sociological picture Leenane is portrayed as a tight-knit community with a 'common human pattern' that is greatly exaggerated and outright bizarre. As Pato Dooley in The Beauty Queen of Leenane says, "you can't kick a cow in Leenane without some bastard holding a grudge twenty year."