Martin McDonagh is one of the rare contemporary playwrights whose name is recognized outside of theatergoing circles—in part, of course, because of his cinematic success as writer and director of In Bruges. With their current production of McDonagh's A Skull of Connemara, Third Rail Repertory returns to McDonagh's trilogy of plays set in Leenane, Ireland, first visited in their 2006 production of The Lonesome West.
Connemara's central conceit is appealingly gruesome: Leenane's graveyard is full up, and so after seven years in the ground, bodies must be removed from the graveyard to make way for new ones. Mick Dowd (Bruce Burkhartsmeier) is charged with the unenviable task of excavating the bones—he's also suspected of deliberately killing his wife, who died in a drunken driving accident while he was at the wheel. When it comes time for Mick to dig up the missus, her bones are missing, arousing the interest of a bitter, bumbling local detective (Michael O'Connell). The ensuing did-he-or-didn't-he takes a quick turn toward the philosophical before a too-glib conclusion, for which the ensemble and the playwright are equally to blame.
The cast, under the direction of Slayden Scott Yarbrough, makes the most of the script's rough poetry and offbeat humor. ("Are you finished?" "Am I Finnish?") Gretchen Corbett as Mick's drunken, bingo-loving neighbor chews on her lines with particular relish—the only occasional off-note comes from Chris Murray, who has flawless comedic timing but seems less comfortable than his castmates with the nuances of the Irish accent (there's a hint of Lucky Charms, in other words).
Had this show been produced by any other company, this review would be a rave—but Third Rail has rapidly and rightly gained a reputation as one of Portland's finest ensembles, and the bar for their work is accordingly high. Connemara is solid, but from a company that generally delivers the spectacular, solid is a letdown.