Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West occurs in a squalid shack inhabited by two feuding brothers in a small, troubled Irish town. Valene (John Steinkamp) is neurotic, greedy, selfish, and anal-retentive. Coleman (Tim True) is sloppy, broke, conniving, and crass. The mixture is volatile. Their father's dead by shotgun at play's outset, but both are too busy squabbling over booze, insurance money, potato chips, and everything else to be much affected by it. The local priest, Father Welsh (Michael O'Connell), hangs out with these bozos. He's a good man, a sad, alcoholic man, who sees the carnage around him as the result of his downfalls as a religious leader. When he's suddenly gone, the brothers experience a minor existential crisis.
The professional super-company, Third Rail Repertory, presents this madness. Its small, stellar pool of actors always seems perfectly cast, despite playing wildly different characters every time. O'Connell shuffles around charmingly as Welsh, his burden of failure weighing on him like bricks. Steinkamp, as Valene, is a hilarious shapeshifter, every fiber of his being, from his hunched-up shoulders to his high-pitched lilt, work to present a man crippled by materialism. As brother Coleman, True kicked things off the day I attended by manically barking his lines. Fortunately, he calmed down as things progressed, and by the end had transitioned into a subtle, simmering ball of potential energy. The final scene, in which the two brothers grow confessional in honor of Father Welsh's death, is a masterful example of escalating tension and suppressed rage.
Third Rail resident director Slayden Scott guides all this with an even hand; he has a great script and knows not to interfere with it. The British McDonagh, still in his 30s, is a prodigious writer—clever and cruel and loving and dark and terribly sad. Watching this wonderful production of his wonderful play is like slipping into a hot bubble bath. The pain eases, the muscles relax, and a notion floats into the mind on a cloud of blissful relief: "Yes. It can be done in Portland. It really can."