There Will Be Blood

'In Bruges' Writer Martin McDonagh's 'The Lieutenant of Inishmore' Is a Bloody, Entertaining Spectacle

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Syrupy, crimson blood coats the stage. The actors returning for their final bow are drenched in it. The curtain, descending on them, brings to an end a story of-in ascending importance-Irish nationalism, cats and senseless bloodshed. Called a black comedy, Martin McDonagh's "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" is actually a red one.

The source of all this violence? A little black cat named Wee Thomas. The play begins with this furry feline already a corpse, dripping jellied brain onto the kitchen table of Donny (James Carpenter), a graying alcoholic. The supposed murderer is neighborhood teen Davey, his accomplice a speeding pink bike, though the events immediately preceding Wee Thomas' death remain subject to debate until the end. Davey (Adam Farabee), vociferously denying responsibility in his effeminate falsetto, is feckin' funny-to use his stilted Irish version of the oft-uttered curse.

But while Davey's denials are comedic, they're also necessary-for his sake. We soon learn that the cat is the prized possession and self-professed best friend of feared domestic terrorist and reputed sociopath Padraic (Blake Ellis). Donny is Padraic's father and was only taking care of him while Padraic was off killing, torturing and committing other crimes in cold blood for the cause of a free Northern Ireland. As Davey's fearful quivering convincingly reports, Padraic's got a nasty reputation. And for good reason.

In the only scene located outside of Inishmore, Padraic interrupts his horrific torture of a small-time pot dealer to answer the phone. Hearing from his father on the other line that Wee Thomas is "sick" (Donny wisely spares his volatile son from the full story), Padraic rushes home to Inishmore, but not before shedding a tear or two on the cat's behalf.

The play's biggest challenge is getting the audience to believe that Padraic can in one moment threaten to remove another man's nipples and in the next weep for his elderly cat. With better acting, it might have succeeded, but Ellis' Padraic is a stiff, beefy blonde with little in the way of personality. He takes a little too much joy in torturing to come off as a believable cat lover. But of course, that's the point, some would say. And yes, this paradox is obviously intended as an element of comedy, a purpose in which it succeeds to some degree. It doesn't reduce the laughter, but it does make it feel a bit hollow.

The true comic stars of "Inishmore" are without question the incompetent, alliterative duo of Davey and Donny. With Padraic's return looming, the pair schemes desperately for a way to avoid his wrath. Hoping to find a black cat to pose as Wee Thomas, they settle for coating the orange tabby of Davey's sister with black shoe polish.

The pairing of Carpenter's grumpy old drunk with Farabee's whiny, longhaired teenager is comic gold, due in equal parts to McDonagh's witty dialogue and two dynamic performers. Farabee is the undeniable jester, interspersing animated overreactions with deadpanned summations of the current state of affairs in ever-strange Inishmore.

Not to be overlooked is the contribution of the Rep's talented backstage crew. How they manage to erect a 25-foot wall and suspend Padraic's torture victim by his feet from the ceiling, all within the 30 seconds or less between the first two scenes, is anybody's guess. But beyond this miraculous transformation, the stagehands have a pretty easy job, considering it is the only scene change of the play. A few more would make it more engaging, but the staging is limited by McDonagh's provincial story.

Nevertheless, the Rep crew makes up for a lack of set changes with jaw-dropping special effects. Numerous shootings and other acts of violence result in exaggerated sprays of blood and guts, which splash the walls and actors while giving no sign as to their source. The ridiculous gore includes the severing of more than a few limbs and nearly as many burst brains.

Is McDonagh striving for some grand point with this Irish bloodbath? Feck if I know. For all the talk of splinter groups and freedom for Ireland, there's actually very little in the way of politics. It mainly serves a backdrop over which gallons of blood could be spewed across the stage. Regardless, the senseless violence seemed to tickle far more viewers than it disgusted. The crowd's typical reaction-waves of raucous laughter-spoke as well for McDonagh as any plot analysis could and seemed to elucidate the irreverent playwright's foremost bloody intentions. Meaningful or not, it's certainly memorable. After all, washing fake blood out of polyester is a difficult task.

Tags: MARTIN MCDONAGH, BERKELEY REPERTORY, LES WATERS


Hug a cute kitten with Nick at [email protected]



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