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A CurtainUp Los AngelesReview
A Skull in Connemara

We need a little music to hammer dead fellows to— Grave-digger Mike Dowd to his helper, Mairton Hanlon
Morlan Higgins ought to be a household name. The fact that he isnít is a complete puzzlement to me. He was my pick for Best Actor of 2004 for his riveting performance in playwright Athol Fugardís Exits and Entrances at the Fountain Theatre where he also starred in Victory and After the Fall, and played Rabbi Stephen Wise in Accomplices. Heís won a number of local awards, but heís never won a Tony. And he doesnít do movies. it was therefore with great anticipation that I went to see him star in Theatre Tribeís production of A Skull In Connemara, a black comedy that premiered in Galway, Ireland, in London in 1997 and in New York in 2001. And, true to expectations, he was absolutely marvelous!

Higgins, heading a flawless cast of four, plays Mick Dowd, an Irish grave digger whose grizzly task it is to dig up the remains of the people he had buried seven years earlier in order to make room for new bodies. (After seven years in the earth, apparently, there is nothing left but skulls and bones.) He is joined in this task by a young reprobate, Mairtin Hanlon (Jeff Kerr McGivney), a mischief maker whose pranks are more often mean-spirited and menacing than comic. (He is known thereabouts for the time he cooked a hamster.) Dowd is also joined in his perpetual bouts with hard liquor by Mairtinís feisty grandmother, Maryjohnny Rafferty (Jenny OíHara), an argumentative old crone who only has bad news to discuss.

The fourth member of this idiosyncratic quartet is Thomas Hanlon (John K. Linton), Mairtinís brother. Thomas is a local policeman who fancies himself a big-time detective on the order of Quincy.

As the play begins, Mick Dowd is preparing himself for the gruesome task of digging up the remains of his wife. Which prompts the others to raise the question once again of his role in her death. Was it really an accident, as he has claimed all these years? Further, does he "snip off the willies" of the dead men before he buries them? And what does he do with the bones of the dead after he digs them up?

Believe it or not, A Skull in Connemara is a very funny play. Of course, anything sounds funnier when it is delivered with a rich Irish brogue, and all four of these players are experts in that regard. But the proof of the pudding is in the writing, and playwright Martin McDonagh has already proven himself to be one of England and Irelandís most accomplished young writers. His play The Beauty Queen of Leenane won four Tonys, The Lieutenant of Inishmore won an Olivier Award (the British equivalent of the Tony) in 2003, and The Pillowman won both an Olivier Award in 2004 and was nominated for a Tony for Best Play in 2005. This year his film In Bruges is up for an Academy Award and his The Cripple of Inishman is a big hit at New York's Atlantic Theater.

Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to see this play is to watch in astonishment as Mick Dowdís dreary cabin is transformed in mere seconds to a dismal graveyard, complete with open graves filled with dirt, skulls and bones, and piles of gray rocks. Jeff McLaughlin, who designed the set, pulls off a minor miracle right before your eyes. He is aided in this task by the dramatic lighting provided by Luke Moyer and the impeccable timing of Director Stuart Rogers, whose capable hand puts the actors through their merry paces without a momentís delay.

Kudos must also go to Sound Designer Thadeus Frazier-Reed for the choices of Irish folk songs that embellish the play, and to Costume Designer Thomas Burr, who deals very well with grunge.

I canít recommend this play more heartily. If I could, I would most defintely buy tickets for all of you! Editor's Note: This is the middle play of McDonagh's Leenane trilogy, The Beauty Queen of Leenane , generally viewed the trilogy's finest, arrived first in 1998 — moving from Off-Broadway to Broadway after creating a major stir — and<a href="lonesomw.html">The Lonesome West opened on Broadway in 2001.

A Skull in Connemara
By Martin McDonagh
Directed by Stuart Rogers
Cast: Morlan Higgins (Mick Dowd), Jenny OíHara (Maryjohnny Rafferty), Jeff Kerr McGivney (Mairtin Hanlon), John K. Linton (Thomas Hanlon)
Set Design: Jeff McLaughlin
Lighting Design: Luke Moyer
Costume Design: Thomas Burr
Sound Design: Thadeus Frazier-Reed

Running Time: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Theatre Tribe, Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 800-838-3006,
From : 01/23/09 to 02/28/09; opening 01/23/09
Tickets: $20
Reviewed by Cynthia Citron based on 01/23/09 performance
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