The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Wilson Milam. Set design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Theresa Squire. Lighting design by Michael Chybowski. Sound design by Obadiah Eaves. Music by Matt McKenzie. Arrangements by Andrew Ranken. Fight director J. David Brimmer. Dialect coach Stephen Gabis. Cast: Jeff Binder, Andrew Connolly, Dashiell Eaves, Peter Gerety, Domhnall Gleeson, Brian d'Arcy James, Alison Pill, David Wilmot.
Painting the town red continues to take on a delicious double meaning with The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Martin McDonagh's play remains an exquisitely entertaining evening at the theater, which ruthlessly drenches its actors, its set, and its props in the blood of any number of characters. It's also one of the most biting, incisive deconstructions of political events to hit New York stages in years. And on top of it all, it's almost fatally hilarious.
These seemingly disparate qualities are hardly coincidental. The play, which has just reopened at the Lyceum after a successful Off-Broadway run at the Atlantic Theater Company, succeeds where so many of today's topical plays fail: It's not afraid to use real humor and the audience's reaction to it, instead of partisan brutalizing, to make its points. Without the laughter and the underlying absurdity that so shamelessly evokes it, this would be little more than a turgid, ponderous screed.
Not that McDonagh could easily write such a thing. The author of The Pillowman (last season's gruesomely electric entry, which in comparison to this one seems like a literal walk in the park) and The Beauty Queen of Leenane knows that the best way to transmit important messages is to allow laughs to occupy the surface while the messages sneak through underneath.
His writing here, among his sharpest, must then logically begin with a central conflict that at first seems like much ado about nothing. So the cherished cat of Padraic (David Wilmot), the militant leader of an Irish Republican Army splinter group, is killed, and someone has to answer for it - be it Padraic's father and the cat's current caretaker, his next door neighbor, or the splinter group's splinter group. If no one does, or especially if they do, well, expect blood to be spilled and spattered as far as the eye can see.
In other words, there's nothing too small to incite primal vengeance, but when it comes to killing dozens or bombing fish-and-chip shops, who cares? (Lest you worry that Padraic has no other sensitive side, he does string up a man, played by Jeff Binder, for selling pot to schoolchildren.) It's a vicious indictment of the culture of violence and the terrorist mindset, both as unfortunately familiar to us in the United States (at least these days) as to the Ireland island McDonagh depicts; and it's all made viciously funny by director Wilson Milam's intensely balanced examination of all sides of the story.
Padraic's father and neighbor (Peter Gerety and Domhnall Gleeson) fearing Padraic's wrath when they discover the dead cat, Wee Thomas, and do all they can to remedy things (covering an orange tabby with shoe polish is one preferred solution). The splinter group's splinters (Andrew Connolly, Dashiell Eaves, and Brian d'Arcy James) discuss action against Padraic even as they argue attribution of certain quotes to Karl Marx or the Jesuits. And the face of the future is hauntingly represented by Mairead (Alison Pill, the sole new Broadway cast member), who's been training her whole life to free Ireland by Padraic's side.
They're all given equal attention, and are enacted with a cunningly consistent conviction that makes them one of the most excitingly unified ensemble casts of the year. If anything, everyone - including the flawless Pill - does an even better job uptown of communicating the story and delivering the waves of first-act exposition that set up the side-splitting (in more ways than one) Act Two horrors that are to follow. But with the possible exception of a shade of intimacy (which, when the blood starts flying, might not be a negative), nothing has been lost between the Atlantic and the Lyceum.
One vital thing has even been gained: a larger audience. When events take increasingly sharp turns toward the strange, the gales of laughter pulsing through the house can't help but rock you to your soul; even if you've seen the show before, be prepared to be swept along for the ride yet again. But when the ringing laughs die down, don't be shocked if McDonagh's intimations toward tolerance and pacificism resonate even more strongly.