Not all of the best Irish playwrights are dead, but they do enjoy and exploit that state of being. Martin McDonagh revels in the dark side of the stereotypes of his ethnic/literary heritage in A Skull in Connemara, currently in the capable hands of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre.
The 1997 comedy-cum-mystery features four characters (in every sense of the word) in County Galway, imbibing poteen, tall tales, a mishmosh of American culture, an even bigger dose of 1970s/'80s TV detectives, and suspicion and guilt (both the legal and Catholic sort). The story centers on a widower with an unusual (by our standards) occupation: exhuming the bones of corpses more than seven years dead, to make way for more freshly dead bodies. And exactly how he became a widower is of more than passing interest to his elderly neighbor and her two very different grandsons.
Director Martin Giles knows his way around dark humor and foreboding situations, but Skull is too long and the timing too labored. While there are the occasional chuckles in the dialogue, the richness of the play lies in the extended stage business and physicality. Lots of dirt gets disclosed, dished and tossed about, along with other parts of the scenery that include the exhumer's cottage and the cemetery. Much praise for scenic designer Gianni Downs, tech director Aaron Bollinger and props master Johnmichael Bohach.
James Keegan dominates the stage as Mick Dowd, still conflicted over the death of his wife, whose bones he is forced to newly contemplate. Sharon Brady bravely captures the deliciously repulsive old biddy wallowing in pettiness and pity, who knows more than she tells. Jason McCune nicely fills the thankless role as a dim and not terribly good cop. Alec Silberblatt throws himself mightily into the role of Mick's foil, and let's hope he doesn't injure himself during the run.
Part comedy, part drama, part mystery, A Skull in Connemara is all of these but none of them truly well.