Saturday, March 25, 2017

A tale of disinterring bodies makes for wild night of Irish black comedy at none too fragile

Last year none too fragile theatre produced Martin McDonagh’s “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” one episode of the Leenane trilogy.  The production was greeted with great critical and box office success. 

It was recognized by as the Outstanding non-musical production of 2016, Director Sean Derry was named the best Director of a non-musical, and Dedriu Ring was named as co-recipient, along with Dorothy Silver for “The Revisionist” at Dobama, as the outstanding female performer.  The Cleveland Critics Circle recognized “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and Ring for Superior Achievement.

It only makes sense that this season they do another of the contemporary Irish writer’s plays, “A Skull in Connemara,” another tale in the trilogy.

The Irish are a unique brand of people.  Living in a land of rocks, ragged hills, harsh weather, poverty and isolation, they have developed attitudes toward life that lend themselves to dark thoughts, bleak tales and sentimentality supported by a lot of alcohol consumption!

McDonagh is one of the most successful young playwrights this century.   He is the first dramatist, since Shakespeare, to have four scripts produced on the professional London stage in a single season.   His black comedies examine cruelty and violence but rebuke the tendency of Irish writers to be overly mawkish.

“Skull” is set in Connemara, located on Ireland’s west coast, the area which has been described as “a pitiless universe.”   Even the dead have it rough in that part of the world.  The local cemetery has limited space.  Since this is a solid Catholic area, cremation isn’t an option.  So, in order to accommodate the newly dead, bodies which have been buried for seven years are dug up and replaced by new arrivals.  What happens to the exhumed skeletons?  That’s a major part of the mystery of “A Skull in Connemara.”

One thing is a given.  The task of digging is left to Mick Dowd.  This year’s task has special significance.  It was seven years ago that Mick’s wife was killed when he drove his car into a ditch while intoxicated. 

As the time approaches for him to dig, rumors arise.  Gossip seeps into the collective brain of the citizens of the small village who have way too much time on their hands for “tellin’ tales” and imbibing to excess.

Maryjohnny Rafferty, an elderly woman who is noted for both cheating while playing bingo and “tippin’ a wee bit” stops regularly at Mick’s house to mooch whiskey.  One of her grandsons, Thomas, is the town’s inept lawman, and the other, Mairtin, is a young bumbling airhead with a penchant for saying and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. 

As the tale proceeds we find that Maritin is going to help Mick dig the graves, while Thomas is going to continue to prove that Mick killed his wife.  Their ineptitudes only increase the nature of the black comedy.  Maritin keeps falling into graves, Thomas finds leads that lead nowhere.  

We watch as the duo of diggers banters, with Mairtin being the butt of many of Mick’s tall tales.  They remove the remains of one corpse, but, when they come to Mick’s wife’s grave…they find the body has been stolen.  Of course, chaos, accusations, another car crash, much consuming of whiskey, and lots of blood, add to the bizarre story.  (What else can you expect from a tale of the land of blarney and an adept storyteller?)

The ntf production, under the direction of Sean Derry, as we have come to expect of him and his talented bunch of thespians, is excellent.

The set, especially considering the compact black box theatre, is astounding.  The kitchen morphs into hills and tombstones and affords the view of two graves actually being dug while dialogue flows.  (Consider this--all that dirt had to be dragged into the space and will have to be removed.)

Prop masters usually get little attention, but, in this case, the “guy in Pittsburgh” (quoting Derry) “handmade all the skulls and body parts which are used in the show.”  (A word of advice:  If you are sitting in the first row, you may well be hit by flying bone fragments as the bodies are decimated with mallets.)

David Peacock is outstanding as Mick Dowd.  He doesn’t portray Mick, he is Mick.  His Irish brogue, as is the case with all the cast, is spot on.  Of course being a Brit, who is a member of British Actors Equity, doesn’t hurt.

Linda Ryan transforms herself into the arthritic Maryjohnny with conviction.  Her sitting and standing is a black comedy, in itself.

With his flat affect Nate Homolka (Mairtin) has some nice moments, as does Doug Kusak as his brother Thomas.

Be warned that some of the language may offend, but it’s all Irish realistic extremism and that’s the beauty of McDonagh’s writing.

Capsule judgement:  Partake in the free shot of Jamison, which is the hallmark of the pre-show ritual at none-too-fragile, sit back, and allow yourself to be immersed in an Irish black comedy, complete with skull battering, blunt language and a wee bit of fun.

For tickets to “A Skull in Connemara” which runs through April 1. 2017 at none too fragile theater in Akron, call 330-671-4563 or go to

The next none too fragile show is “Salvage” (May 5-20) which finds a recently deceased young man’s sister and mother finding themselves racing against time to rescue his prized possessions from the family basement before a flood hits.