The Tonys are generally a night for celebration, but they can also spell a pretty quick doom for shows that desperately need a win -- and don't get one. Martin McDonagh's The Lonesome West, a pitch-black comedy that got mixed-to-positive reviews (the New York Times was especially mixed) and fared badly at the box office since opening April 27, 1999, is the first casualty of this year's Awards. The play will close June 13, after 9 previews and 55 regular performances.
Producers Randall L. Wreghitt, Steven M. Levy, Norma Langworthy< Gayle Francis, Dani Davis & Jason Howland, Joan Stein and Susan Dietz, Everett King and Pace Theatrical/SFX Entertainment/Jon B. Platt released a statement June 8 saying, "It is with great sadness that we have made the difficult decision to close The Lonesome West this Sunday [June 13]. We are very proud of this production..."
For the week ending June 6, The Lonesome West managed only $41,941 in grosses, filling only 17.94 percent of the Lyceum Theatre's 924 seats.
Tony nominations for the director Garry Hynes, leading actor Brian F. O'Byrne, featured actress Dawn Bradfield, and the play itself allowed the producers to keep the show going through June 6, but when none of the four nominees took home a Tony, it appeared unlikely the show's 30-40 percent attendance rate would make a necessary leap. (Director Hynes already has plans beyond the show. She said backstage at the Tony's that she'll be staging a Broadway production of Synge's Playboy of the Western World with Alan Cumming "sometime next year.")
The violent tone and sick humor of The Lonesome West may have been a hard sell to typical Broadway audiences -- this despite McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane nearly winning a best play Tony the year before. There's sibling rivalry in Death of a Salesman, sibling treachery in The Lion in Winter, and even one brother murdering another in The Civil War, but the two wretched protagonists of The Lonesome West make the rest look like Care Bears by comparison. Petty, pathetic Valene and the psychotic Coleman battle each other throughout, despite the intervention of a well-meaning but hapless priest, and a pure-hearted but dirty-minded local girl. The Lonesome West was the final new play of the Broadway season, having started previews April 19 at the Lyceum Theater, recent home of Night Must Fall (which moved to the Helen Hayes April 20).
Two of the prolific McDonagh's plays have thus far made the trip across the Atlantic: The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Cripple of 0Inishmaan. Leenane debuted at the Atlantic Theater Company in early 1998 and quickly transferred to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre. Nominated for a best play Tony (Art won), the show did capture several acting Tonys and a win for Irish director Hynes. She had already staged West in London back in 1997 with her Druid Theatre Company. That cast made the Atlantic transfer intact: Dawn Bradfield, David Ganly, Brian F. O'Byrne (a Tony nominee for Leenane) and Maeliosa Stafford.
Francis O'Connor, who designed the sets and costumes for Beauty Queen will do the same for Lonesome West. Tharon Musser is the lighting designer.
As for McDonagh's Inishmaan, that show opened with less success in spring 1998 at the Public Theatre. Like Leenane, Inishmaan has been making the regional theatre rounds. Lonesome West is part of the playwright's "Leenane" trilogy, which also includes A Skull in Connemara.
Ironically, The Lonesome West got a hint of its trouble gaining audience recognition on the Tony show itself. Kevin Kline, suffering cue card trouble, repeatedly mispronounced nominee Brian F. O'Byrne's name, while the Tony segment highlighting scenes from the straight plays mixed dialogue from several plays together, doing little to highlight individual nominees.