Thursday, February 22, 2018
Stage

Review: Jobsite's 'A Skull in Connemara' digs deep in delightful whodunit

TAMPA — Some things should be shrouded in mystery, and it's probably best that we can only ponder where Martin McDonagh received his inspiration for writing A Skull in Connemara.

The play, which opened at Jobsite Theater over the weekend, involves four dysfunctional residents of County Galway, Ireland, one of whom took a curious career path and exhumes remains at a local cemetery.

Say what? Just go with it. That appears to be what McDonagh did, digging deep (as it were) into curious creativity.

The local graveyard isn't big enough to accommodate everyone in need of a final resting place. So when someone new arrives, someone has to go. It is Mick Dowd's job to make room and, um, recycle the dearly departed by digging them up and bashing their dead skulls with a hammer.

Hey, it's a living and it keeps his cabinet filled with booze until there is a twist to the plot, as if the plot weren't twisted already. Next on the list to be relocated: Dowd's late wife.

If that wasn't unsettling enough, he has been fending off rumors all over town that he killed her. It was never proven, but why let the lack of facts ruin a good conspiracy theory?

That is the premise for this darkly humorous, macabre yarn, wrapped around what basically is nonstop drinking, drunken stumbling and a spot or two of blood and violence.

How did the author settle on this plot? Inspiration can come from many sources, but I'm guessing this muse's minimum fee included multiple pints of Guinness.

The play's title comes from a monologue in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot — so add that bit of trivia to your evening's entertainment.

The tale manages to wrap exhuming corpses, skull bashing, mass quantities of alcohol, Beckett, and Godot, around the eternal question of whodunit.

It is the kind of challenge the people at Jobsite Theater like to tackle in the cozy setting of the Shimberg Playhouse at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. They did so with excellence.

Brian Shea plays the star-crossed Dowd with equal measures of wit, venom, irony and maybe a touch or two of crazy. Good thing, because that is just what his funny, angry and flat-out nutty character requires.

He even made the audience feel a bit sorry for him by the end. Think about that.

On the other hand, Brandon Mauro, in the role of Mairtin Hanlon, was bratty, immature and more than a little unlikable. But at least we liked his character better than conniving cop Thomas Hanlon, who was despicably believable thanks to David M. Jenkins.

Diana Rogers, in the role of MaryJohnny Rafferty, was every whiny grandma you've ever seen as she lived her life's mission of bingo and gossip, along with a wee nip or three — and wonderfully so.

There are only two sets in the approximately two-hour production (including one intermission), but the graveyard by set designer Brian Smallheer deserves a hat tip. It was foreboding, creepy and a perfect gathering place for these misfits to practice their peculiar brand of skullduggery.

A tip if you go: The characters speak in thick Irish dialect and you might need a few minutes before your ears adapt. No need to feel like an eejit (Irish slang for idiot). Just pay attention and you'll catch on.

Oh, and those in the front row might get nicked by a flying piece of hammered skull in a scene that evokes Gallagher on Halloween night. You've been warned.

As for the rest of it, don't ask too many questions. There are some things we don't need to know.

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