Usually I like to start off a review with a few quotes from the play, but the dialogue in “A Skull in Connemara”, which recently ended its run in Centerstage, was too fast, too lively, and too Irish to write down. The actors rampaged around the stage, smashed skulls into smithereens, and yelled at each other with an intensity matched only by an episode of Jerry Springer, all while expertly finagling their thoughts and words into a fine Irish brogue. And in between the spurts of loudness, there were quiet moments of touching melancholy too.
The setting is Ireland in the 1990s, sometimes in the home of Mick Dowd, who’s hired every spring to dig up old graves for the newly cold, and sometimes in the graveyard where he does his morbid work. For years he’s been haunted by rumors that he killed his own wife Oona, and the village tensions come to a head when, while digging with his dumb teen helper Mairtin, he digs up Oona’s grave and discovers it to be empty. Lies, allegations of corruption, two attempted murders, skull smashing, and a whole heap of lewd jokes round up the rest of the two hours.
“A Skull in Connemara” is not just a comic play, however. Most of the drama comes from Dowd, and his insistence that he didn’t lay a hand on Oona. The actor, Si Osbourne, inhabits the life of a tired and weary widower well. Every time he recalls married life with Oona it’s always a beautiful pause from the rest of the chaos for the audience to breathe, reflect, and feel.
If you had asked me ten minutes in to summarize the play, however, I would have shrugged. The play starts out slow with a few clunky bits of exposition, and it took a while to understand anything the actors were saying. But by the time that Dowd kicks Mairtin into a freshly dug grave, I could laugh hysterically at Mairtin’s wondrously offensive replies, and by the end when Dowd holds up Oona’s skull with reverence and grace, I leaning forward in my seat and holding my breath. It was certainly an entertaining night.