A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Comes to Players' Ring
The actors had been chosen, rehearsals scheduled, and notices for the Players' Ring show already sent out when the production team realized they would not be getting the rights for the script for "Ben Butler," which had been picked out specifically for Black History Month.
So what happens when you have a stage waiting for action, but no show? With three months till curtain time, Generic Theater adeptly replaced a Civil War story involving the fate of escaped enslaved men, with "A Skull in Connemara," a dark comedy set in Ireland.
Three of the four actors already cast for the earlier show were recast for "Skull," making it an easy transition with a pre-set rehearsal schedule. And "A Skull in Connemara" was chosen because Peggi McCarthy of Exeter has run staged readings of it and knew the script well enough to step in as director at the last minute.
Opening Friday, Feb. 14 at the Marcy Street Theater, "A Skull in Connemara," is the story of a grave-digger who each year has to remove old skeletons - including eventually the wife he is accused of killing - to make way for the newly deceased. Written by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, the tale involves misfits and unnerving events, some potentially gory.
"It has dark humor, sarcastic humor, a humor based in the expense of others, but it's funny," said Roland Goodbody, who plays the gravedigger.
This unusual love story will open on Valentine's Day, offering a less sentimental option for celebrating.
"It's a dark commentary on love," Goodbody said. "Mick still has feelings for his dead wife and still feels guilty that she died as she wasn't wearing a seat belt."
In addition to Goodbody, the cast includes Sven Wiberg of Durham, Peter Michaud of Dover, and Deborah Chick of Kittery.
Set in modern rural Ireland, "A Skull in Connemara" is based in the town of Leenane, where gravedigger Mick Dowd works to make room for new bodies in the church's graveyard. How Mick finishes his work and whose bone must be dug out provide the action. The show premiered in 1998 when the 24-year-old McDonagh became the first playwright since Shakespeare to have four productions running on a London stage at once.
As it happens, Goodbody is a Brit and McCarthy is Irish which may deepen their appreciation for McDonagh.
"Not only can Roland do a really good Irish accent, but he's been there and hung out there a lot," McCarthy said, and suggested that her own Irish lineage may help her enjoy the playwright's sense of humor.
The language in the play is indeed one of the script's features that most appeals to Roland.
"The language is brilliant," he said. "There is a musicality, a balance, rhythm and cadence to the language, that I like rolling around in my mouth."
Part of what accounts for the rhythm of the language, Goodbody said, is that it still bears evidence of Irish, in its odd word order, for instance. As an example, Goodbody noted that his character, Mick Dowd, tells the sole female character, Maryjohnny: "Just a biteen big-boned sometimes you do seem."
A McDonagh's show often emphasizes props, and this play is no exception, McCarthy said. She promised a full complement of props, many of which are destroyed and have to be recreated in each show.
Working with Goodbody, who has been part of Generic Theater since 1982, is a singular delight, according to McCarthy.
"He Roland is wonderful, he's reliable and he works hard," she said, adding that as an actor he brings nuance and a depth of a character and subtleties. "He can be light, he can be serious, he can be angry. And you can feel his grief for his dead wife." And she's delighted with the cast. Michaud and Chick are also long-time friends and collaborators in Generic Theater, and newcomer Wiberg, who plays Mick's main foil, brings a great work ethic along with his talent.
Presenting McDonagh's work is also truly a treat, she added.
"McDonagh is wicked," McCarthy said. "He presents things that are really terrible and makes them funny,"
"A Skull in Connemara" will be performed weekends from Feb 14 to March 1 at the Players' Ring Theatre at 105 Marcy St. in Portsmouth, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. A "Talkback," which gives the audience a chance to discuss the performance with the actors and director, will follow the 3 pm show on Sunday, Feb. 23.a??a??Tickets are $20 with discounts for students, seniors, and Players' Ring members. Reservations can be made at playersring.org or 603-436-8123.a??a??a??a??