Pictured: John Voth and Kenton Klassen. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Whenever I walk into the Pacific theatre it’s always a peculiar experience. As I walk across the very stage the actors will stand on to find my seat, I wonder what it feels like to be watched from (almost) all directions, even the back of your head, sides and places you don’t want to show. It’s scary but exciting.
The Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh at the Pacific theatre is a guest production by Cave Canem, directed by Evan Frayne. Set in the Irish hamlet of Leeane, Coleman and Valene, brothers living in their recently deceased father’s house, are constantly at each other’s throats. Will father Welsh’s attempts to rekindle some sort of brotherly love in their hearts be in vain?
The set is homely but eye-catching. The small stage is economically utilized and with some lighting magic, the kitchen turns into various other locations. There is amazing attention to details. There are holes in their socks, tiny little breakable props they have boxes of in the back, and subtle music and sounds in several scenes. The rock music in between scenes is jarring and unsettling, as unfitting as the violent and strange brothers in this quiet rural town.
The pre-show Irish music gets the audience in the mood, and when the “curtain rises” we are hit with Irish accents, dialects and slang. It took me a few minutes to understand what was going on and that “feck” is the equivalent of the f-word in Ireland. We meet Coleman (Kenton Klassen) first, talking to father Welsh (Sebastien Archibald), coming back from the funeral of Coleman’s father, whom he had accidentally shot in the head. Valene (John Voth) walks in and immediately the brothers start bickering and fighting. The actors have fantastic chemistry and their banter and stage fight is believable. I want to give a shoutout to the Fight Director Josh Reynolds for making the amazing stage fights happen and keeping everyone safe. It’s extremely childish, reminding me of fights I used to have with my brother. But something’s very off here- adults shouldn’t be fighting like this.
The story unfolds and though the plot is quite dark, the play manages to keep it light and we find ourselves laughing at murder, suicide and hatred, the absurdity of it all, the strange, crazy brothers. The best cure for the unknown, of course, is comedy. The writing of this play is impressive primarily as a comedy but also as drama. There are no wasted lines or jokes that are carelessly tossed away. They are mentioned again and ends meet. A comedic element in the first act comes back as an essential plot point in the second act. Nothing is wasted.
Burning with legitimate passionate hatred towards each other, they have constantly been trying to “one up” each other, but as they become older and more capable of doing more and more horrible and unacceptable deeds, things get out of hand. I found myself audibly sighing at times, wanting to grab them by the shoulders and shout “Grow up already!” Which, essentially, is how the good father Welsh feels. Notable performance is by Sebastien Archibald, who plays the ever-doubting priest. His performance is powerful, not only because of his projection with the yelling and screaming, but also his passion and beliefs in the human race and love carries through his manner and actions towards the brothers.
But all this falls flat to them. Did something go so wrong fundamentally between the brothers, and can nothing be fixed? Can anything be changed? It feels as if the protagonist of this play in reality is Valene, the only character that changes, even if it is just slightly. Girlene (Paige Louter) simply doesn’t have the chance and the naive priest never learns. Coleman is simply the awful person he is, was, and will be. Act 1 and the show itself both ends with Valene standing in the kitchen of their grimy rural home, with black Vs plastered all over the house, bold and threatening. But opposed to the intermission, Valene is facing the Christ on the cross, the meticulously placed figures of the virgin, and he’s much more somber. Then darkness- but not before, for a fraction of a second- a small spotlight on Jesus and the letter- and perhaps, a flicker of hope.