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Review: 'The Lonesome West' is big laughs on a tiny stage

TAMPA — There's not much loneliness in The Lonesome West apart from the ever-flowing tears of a boozy priest desperate to repair the mangled relationship between two brothers. But don't let the sad sap fool you. This Jobsite Theater play, currently running at the Straz Center, is a gut-busting comedy reminiscent of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, similarly about two roommates unfit to live under the same roof.

Simon was a master of the one-liner, but here, the specialty is in playwright Martin McDonagh's ability to mix hilarious rat-a-tat banter with inherent sadness. Even though these are dark times, the brothers are almost enjoying the misery.

The middle-aged siblings, Valene (Matt Lunsford) and Coleman (David M. Jenkins), just buried their father after Coleman shot him "on accident." They're having a heck of a time getting along — let alone living together in their father's house in Leenane, Ireland. Valene, the bread-winner, resents Coleman for free-loading and, more importantly, sneaking bags of his precious Taytos (Irish potato chips) and swallows of his poteen (an Irish vodka-like drink).

Side note: I was thankful that I reviewed the glossary of Irish slang terms tucked inside my playbill a few minutes before Friday's opening show. Otherwise, I would have been lost. Slang is prevalent, including a curious term "fecking" that can be easily confused for the f-bomb if you don't know better.

The dynamic between the brothers and Father Welsh (Brian Shea), a failing priest whose last wish is to restore their relationship, is highly amusing: Over and over, Valene does something to tick off Coleman, they fight like bulls and end up on the floor in a giant knot, then Welsh has a fit and has to pull them off each other.

The Lonesome West, directed by Paul Potenza, is a theatrical adventure thanks to Lunsford's and Jenkins' stellar performances and chemistry. Both actors deliver zingers so naturally it's easy to forget they're acting: "Your sex appeal wouldn't buy a fly off a dead frog," Valene says to Coleman during a battle about who's the bigger virgin.

If there's a downfall to the performance, it's the minute-too-long reading of a letter that Father Welsh writes to the fellas before a devastating turn in the plot. In this case, shorter would have been sweeter.

Momentum picks up for a bit until the end of the play, when the brothers finally make up and vow to work on their relationship. Reparations are talky and drawn out, and reminiscent of the last scenes in The Odd Couple, which are also too chatty and somewhat exhausting.

Nestled in the small, intimate theater, The Lonesome West thrives on its close relationship with the audience. Seeing it in a bigger venue wouldn't have been as satisfying. When one brother scratched his undercarriage and smelled it, we felt like we were smelling it, too — whether we wanted to or not.

Sabrina Rocco can be reached at srocco@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8862.

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The Lonesome West

The play continues through Aug. 4 at the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. Run time: 2 hours, plus 15-minute intermission. $28. (813) 229-7827; jobsitetheater.org.

Review: 'The Lonesome West' is big laughs on a tiny stage 07/15/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 5:47pm]
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