Violence in plays — do you use it? have you seen it?

Violence in “The Lonesome West” by Martin McDonagh — minor spoilers

Last night, I went to a reading of “The Lonesome West” by Martin McDonagh, presented by the wonderful Seattle company New Century Theatre Company.

I thought the play was hilariously funny, in a dark way, until just about the end. I won’t say exactly what happens, so I don’t spoil it if you haven’t read it. But suddenly, I wasn’t laughing, I wasn’t enjoying myself, and I thought the play had taken an unearned twist.

The audience had a great conversation afterwards. A lot of people said they also were disturbed by the twist at the end. They thought it was because we, as a society, are comfortable with violence against people. But we’re outraged and disturbed violence against animals.

I see it differently. The violence that occurs on stage is dark, but in a funny way. The violence that occurs offstage, that’s only talked about, is also presented in a darkly funny way.

But we see concrete evidence of violence against animals. And when it comes out, it’s not funny.

To me, it’s like how Rambo can kill 77 nameless characters with a hail of anonymous bullets from a machine gun, and I don’t care. But in “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover,” for example, when the mobster cuts out the little boy’s navel with a knife, I do care. I was horrified and disgusted.

What makes something disturbing, in any medium, is a specific act against a specific character. Whether the character is animal or human.

Have you ever used violence in your plays?

I’ve never used violence in my plays. Well, there was a little sexually charged torture in “The Cougar in the Coffeehouse.” 🙂 But that was funny.

What about you? Have you used violence? Would you?


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