Top critical review
Divine Right of Inherited Swag
on August 22, 2000
Martin McDonagh is a recent incarnation of a long line of "angry" young men from across the Atlantic who write plays: John Osborne to Edward Bond to Howard Brenton and David Hare to David Edgar. These writers, however, have had something to be angry about, and something important to say about it. I'm not sure McDonagh does.
Sure, he's a clever storyteller. He fills each of these plays with a witty, self-propelled dialogue, the kind of patter actors love. There's a naughty schoolboy delight in the language. The dialogue is funny and ironic, but often repetitive and monotonous. And, at the end of the day, these plays don't offer much beneath the surface sheen.
Beauty Queen, for example, is about a woman approacing middle-age who, to protect the illusion of her last chance at love, tortures her poor old mum. Knee-jerk theatricality, if you ask me. Where's the insight? the passion? the outrage? In Cripple of Inishmaan, which is not in this collection, but was produced repeatedly in the US a season or so ago, is a larger play that contains the same kind of banter spread among more characters. It's exceptionally hard to make it work in production, mainly because McDonagh substitutes events for action. The play gives a mixed message to the audience, daring you to like the characters but constantly reminding you that the author is ridiculing them.
Of the three McDonagh plays I've seen, the one I thought was most successful was The Lonesome West, which functions on a level much like the others, but has the virtue of being outrageously funny all the way through. Perhaps McDonagh has more invested personally in the sibling rivalry premise: the story rings a little truer and he seems better able to stretch the blarney into a two hour play.
Talented, yes. Prodigy, no. Time will tell whether this angry young man will grow up to be a playwright.