A SKULL IN CONNEMARA is a Hidden Delight

by Walter Bender

The Lantern Theater Company opened its latest production, A SKULL IN CONNEMARA on Wednesday January 19. The show takes place in a small town in Ireland with a very small Catholic cemetery – too small as it turns out. Each year a local widower is hired to disinter old bones to make room for the newly departed. This particular year, the bones that are to be unearthed may bring out long hidden secrets.

Stephen Novelli as Mick in Lantern Theater Company’s production of A SKULL IN CONNEMARA. (Photo: Mark Garvin.)

A SKULL IN CONNEMARA is what best described as a “dark comedy.” There is much to laugh at in the show, with the characters and the storyline filled with chuckles, even as the subject matter makes you wonder at all the laughter. Stephen Novelli plays Nick, the widower whose annual task is to dig up the caskets of the older corpses to make room for the next year’s “inhabitants.” Novelli is excellent, his comedic timing spot on. His conversations with local busybody Maryjonny (Ellen Mulroney) are one of many highlights of the show. Mulroney plays her character perfectly. Jake Blouch is Mairtin, the grandson of Maryjonny and a local ne’er-do-well who is hired to assist Nick in his grisly task. Blouch is very funny as the dim-witted local hood who tries to be sly. Jered McLenigan rounds out this stellar cast as Thomas Hanlon, the local policeman (and brother to Mairtin) who sees a larger crime behind every small one and who dreams of being a detective.

M. Craig Getting and Kathryn MacMillan are the co-directors of this production and do a very fine job keeping the story moving. The show moves very nicely, the scene changes are brisk, and there is no lag in action or energy. The interplay among the actors was excellent, everything seeming quite natural. Dirk Durossette (Scenic Designer) has constructed a great set, with a couple of interesting technical challenges handled very cleverly. The costumes (designed by Natalia de la Torre) helped give the audience a sense of Ireland as well as saying something about each character. The lighting and sound accentuated the production nicely.  Additional kudos to the production staff for the creation and maintenance of the props for this show…in the press notes they mention that over 100 skulls needed to be created for rehearsals and performances! And, special congrats to Marla Burkholder as the dialect coach for keeping the accents consistent yet not making it impossible to understand the dialogue.

A SKULL IN CONNEMARA is a part of the Philadelphia Irish Theatre Festival and Irish MixTix. During the Festival, six Philadelphia-area theater companies are presenting works by Irish playwrights between December 2010 and May 2011. With the Irish MixTix (available at http://mixtix.phillytheatretix.com) patrons can order tickets to two or more plays and save 20% off the listed ticket prices.

A SKULL IN CONNEMARA is a wonderful production. The performances are all first-rate, the story draws you in, and the ending gives you something to discuss as you leave. Kudos to the Lantern Theater Company for a delicious offering.

By Martin McDonagh
Directed by M. Craig Getting and Kathryn MacMillan
January 13 – February 13, 2011 (Extended!)
Lantern Theater Company
St. Stephen’s Theater
10th & Ludlow Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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