BWW Reviews: SKULL IN CONEMARA at Center Stage - A Haunting Comedy


When you walk into the Head Theater to see Martin McDonagh's  A Skull in Connemara, you face a set with a kitchen in a home in the west of Ireland, specifically Leenane, Co. Galway with six levels of Irish tchotchkes in a bookcase that includes photos of the Pope and President John F. Kennedy.  Also on stage in front of the kitchen are cemetary stones (lovely done by set designer Todd Rosenthal).

This is the work of playwright Martin McDonagh, known as the writer of the Academy Award nominee In Bruges.  He's also responsible for the hit plays The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman.

As the superb cast begins speaking, you will think you have been transformed to the Druid Theater in Western Ireland where the play had its debut.  The accents are right on thanks in large part to Dialect Consultant Gillian Lane-Plescia. You do have to get used to the Irish inflection.  You may even miss some lines. but Director BJ Jones (now in his fourteenth year as Artistic Director of the Chicago's Northlight Theatre) does a masterly job in directing this funny yet tragic play. 

Si Osborne has the pleasure of playing Mick Dowd who served seven years in jail due to his driving the car that led to his beloved wife's demise. Upon his release, his duty is to exume old bodies in the church graveyard to make room for new arrivals.  Yes...this really occurs and exhumation in fact has a long history that traverses continents, spans centuries and continues today.

Those gravestones on stage actually turn into graves and before you know it, Dowd's character is actually digging and digging and digging (thanks to trap doors). He and his young helper Mairtin (the terrific Jordan J. Brown) uncover bones and then go on to enjoy crunching them with hammers. If you happen to be in the front rows, watch out for fragments.  And yes...the audience laughs at the mayhem.

If you remain in your seat during intermission, you can't help but be impressed with the stagehands who must fill in the graves.  They do yeoman's work.

Mairtin's older brother Thomas (Richard Thieriot) is the local constabulary who is looking for a promotion.  One of the funniest lines in the play occurs when due to some abnormal activity, admits, "There goes my promotion".

Adding to the hilarity is the brothers' grandmother Maryjohnny played by the hilarious Barbara Kingsley who just loves to drink.

What leads to the play's surprise is what happens when Mick diggs up the grave of his wife Oona. I will not spoil it for you.  But Mick is not too pleased with what he finds.  Will there be blood? Ofcourse, lots of it. But hardly anyone notices it.  Remember, this IS a comedy.

Once again the Center Stage program is full of helfpful information thanks in large part to Production Dramaturg Kellie Mecleary.

I couldn't think of a better way to recommend Skull than the quote in a Center Stage advertisement for the play.  "This sidesplitting yarn conjures a macabre mystery packed with merriment, mayhem, and might-be murder that is as full of twists as a shillelagh and as haunting as whistle in a graveyard."

If only Center Stage could have scheduled this during St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

A Skull in Connemara ends March 4. Celebrate St. Patrick's Day early. For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or visit

Next up at Center Stage is the Stephen Sondheim classic musical Into the Woods which runs March 7 to April 15, 2012

For parents of young families, Center Stage is offering Into the Woods Act 1 Only which avoids some of the Act II hystrionics.  These two 90 minutes presentations will be on March 22 at 10:30 a.m. and April 1 at 7:30 p.m. General Admission tickets are $15 for adults and only $10 for children (ages 8-18).  Can theater be any more affordable?? Visit

Photo Credit: Richard Anderson

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