Girleen, the Irish teenage bootlegger gives as good as she gets in Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West

Cave Canem’s production of The Lonesome West at Pacific Theatre opens tonight.

The production of a new Martin McDonagh play is always cause for a celebration—at least, by fans of the Irish playwright.

McDonagh, whose work has been called “scabrous,” “morbid” and “depraved” by the press, tends to be a polarizing figure. Then again, critics are loving his new movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (In a five-star review, the Guardian called it a “violent carnival of small-town America.”)

The Lonesome West (1997), which opens tonight (Oct 19) and runs until Nov. 11 at Pacific Theatre (1440 12th Ave. W) is the third in McDonagh’s trilogy of plays set in the Western Ireland town of Leenane. (The other two are The Beauty Queen of Leenane and A Skull in Connemara). In The Lonesome West, two brothers express grief over their father by more or less trying to kill each other.

The play is the first production from new local theatre company Cave Canem. We talked to Vancouver actor Paige Louter about her role as Girleen, the teenage bootlegger.

Inside Vancouver: Martin McDonagh is considered by some to be a very male playwright. Would you go along with that?

Paige Louter: Yes. He’s very masculine in his themes, and most of his characters are men.

He’s interested in violence and aggression, and a lot of things that we think of as stereotypically male. But he also writes really good female characters. I get to deliver some of the best insults in the show. And I get to be vulnerable in way some of the male characters don’t.

Girleen, my character is one of his more successful female roles. In his most recent play, there’s another teenage girl and I don’t think he wrote that one as well.

IV: Is it fair to say you get to deliver some of the best insults in an insult-filled show?

PL: Yes. Yes, I would definitely say that.

IV: Have you played anyone like Girleen before?

PL: Girleen is kind of unique in terms of what I’ve done before. The range of where she starts and where she ends up, the toughness and the vulnerability—I’ve done all of those things before, but to have those compressed into one character is an exciting challenge.

IV: How did being born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario prepare you for this play? Is it at all similar to the town where The Lonesome West is set?

PL: In some ways it (Leenane) is kind of representational of the kind of terrible people you can find anywhere. Hamilton certainly has its share of gritty, kind of horrible people.

IV: Is there a big Irish population there?

PL: Not particularly. I’ve found that there are a lot of Irish people in Vancouver. I lived in Ireland for a year. Anytime I told anyone I was moving to Vancouver, everyone seemed to have a cousin or friend living there.

IV: Did anything about living in Ireland prepare you to do this?

PL: Yeah. I think understanding a lot of the cultural references. Certainly, having the sound of the accent in my head really helped. And I got to intern with the company where The Lonesome West premiered. And I know the theatre where the show first went up. That definitely fed into my process, and preparation.

IV: One review mentioned of the play mentioned “expressive, deliberately goofball fight sequences.” Is that something that is part of this production?

PL: Yes. Most of the fighting takes place between the two brothers, Valene and Coleman. It’s kind of brutal but also very funny. It’s two grown men fighting over the pettiest things. You look at John (Voth) and Kenton (Klassen, who star as the brothers) and you know they couldn’t do real damage to each other if they actually wanted too. It’s always about something totally unimportant, like who gets a bag of chips. I love the fights in this show—they’re hilarious.

IV: Do you have a fight choreographer?

PL: Josh Reynolds is our fight choreographer. He’s blocked the scenes. I’m the show’s fight captain. We run before we do them and make sure everything’s safe.

IV: Another thing I’ve seen mentioned is the set, which is the brothers’ kitchen. Have you seen it yet?

PL: The set is already loaded in. It’s great to have it there, it totally informs how we feel about the space. (It’s very rural, west of Ireland. This is what this would look like if these two grown men lived here in squalor.

The Lonesome West runs at Pacific Theatre until Nov. 11. Tickets start are $36.50 ($20 on Wednesday) and are available at pacifictheatre.org.

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