Playwright Martin McDonagh -- a four-time Tony nominee -- is known for his rhythmic, ungrammatical dialogue and a worldview that's comic, unsparing and just. He sets his plays in Irish villages so small and overgrown with past grievances, neighbors remember 27-year-old slights that didn't even involve them. Here, a part-time gravedigger named Mick (Morlan Higgins) and his sop-headed assistant, Mairtin (Jeff Kerr McGivney), are assigned to disinter the bones of Mick's wife, dead of a car crash officially, but the bored locals, like old widow Maryjohnny (Jenny O'Hara) and Thomas the cop (John K. Linton), have long whispered that she was murdered by her husband. Under Stuart Rogers' measured direction, Higgins feels capable of dismissive violence -- say, flinging hooch in Mairtin's eyes -- but we're reluctant to see the killer who could be hibernating within his bearish frame. Instead of plumbing the comedy's bleak cruelty, the production plays like a cynical -- and highly watchable -- Sherlock Holmes story: The focus is on the villagers' thick webs of past and present tension, which spin into an obsession with fairness, where characters glower, "Now I have to turn me vague insinuations into something more of an insult, so then we'll all be quits." Jeff McLaughlin's fantastic pull-down set converts from a living room to a cemetery, with grave pits as deep as Higgisn' thighs are thick. Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 28. (800) 838-3006.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Jan. 23. Continues through March 28, 2009