This past weekend I spent just over 24 hours away from my apartment, school, and life in Boston to see my brother, New York based actor-Alec Silberblatt– play thick skulled and spry, Mairtin Hanlon, in Martin McDonough’s, “A Skull in Connemara.” The performance, which took place in Pittsburgh, Pa at the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater, was one worth the price and hassle of a round trip plane ticket. I was reminded that among all the esoteric, overly intellectual, or masturbatory theater that often ends up being inaccessible to a majority of the audience, there are still shows being written and produced that are not only thoughtfully conceived and performed but also entertaining. Shows that are a pleasure to watch. Shows with an engaging story, appropriate use of spectacle, and characters whose existence within the unique world of their play is simply fun to watch.
One of the highly successful elements of this play was both inherent in the script and apparent in the direction. “A Skull in Connemara” used contrast to create comedy. Occasionally contrasting themes, physicality’s, or character’s dispositions would result in a chuckle from the audience. On other occasions such contrast would induce side splitting, uncontrollable laughter.
My brother’s bold, spastically rubbery and indirect physicality contrasted starkly with the near immobility of the character, Mary Johnny, the controlled, calm of the character, Mick, and the forced, authoritarian rigidity of the character, Thomas. Mairtin’s chaotic movement come across as not only a result of youth and hope (Mairtin seams to be the only character not jaded enough to resent life- even mentioning that life “is fair. Or at least I like it”) but also irrationally and hilariously motivated by the surrounding stillness.
This specific physicality was not overtly written into the script but can certainly be justified by it- Mairtin has grown up in a dysfunctional home and is no stranger for corporal punishment, both earned and not, and therefore would be skittish. Alec’s commitment to this physical spraying of energy was generous. It was appreciated and recognized as so by the audience. Additionally the actors playing all of the remaining characters commitment to their conservation of energy and restriction of movement generously complemented Mairtin’s absurd and indirect darting.
Not only were the actor’s performances generous, the script generously kept the audience’s wants and needs in mind. Fist of all, the contrast of themes in the text creates comedy. The play deals very closely with death. The main character’s livelihood comes from digging up the bones of the dead to make room for fresh burials. Additionally, Connemara- the play’s setting, is an Irish town known for being barren and unsupportive of life or growth. Watching these characters struggle to make a life while surrounded by death is funny. Other people’s pain and struggle is funny. The closer a play’s content is to death the more opportunity for humor there is. McDonough obviously understands this.
However, his understanding of dark comedy is not the only gift McDonough selflessly offers to his actors and audience. He also has a beautiful, almost Shakespearean, command over the Irish-influenced English language. The rhythmical beauty of the sentence structures and seamless incorporation of poetic devices like alliteration contrasts greatly with the often gruesome, raunchy or otherwise unpleasant subject matter of the plays dialogue.
The play write was generous to the audience and the actors. The actors were generous to each other and the audience. The director facilitated this generosity. Seeing this production of “A Skull in Connemara” was an absolute gift. And if you think my opinion of my brother’s performance is biased, Mike Vargo wrote for Entertainment Central Pittsburgh, “The actor [Alec] nails it.”