Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Theatre Northlight

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Keith Gallagher, Jamie Abelson, Cliff Chamberlain, John Judd, Matt DeCaro and Andy Luther
We might wonder what goes through the minds of those who create violence. Are they mad, dim or just misguided? Playwright Martin McDonagh suggests it's all of the above in his darkly comic depiction of the banality and futility of the culture of violence in the northern Irish terrorist movement.

Though the "troubles" of Northern Ireland apparently have largely subsided at the time of the action, revolutionaries like Padraic (Cliff Chamberlain) are still in business, keeping busy by torturing petty drug dealers like James (Keith Gallagher) for selling marijuana to good Catholic schoolchildren and still somehow seeing their work as fighting the domination of the British government. His mutilation of the dope dealer is interrupted by a cell phone call from his father back home on the island of Inishmore and after protesting "Da ... I can't talk now, I'm working," learns that his cat Wee Thomas has taken deathly ill.

The real story his father is hiding is that young neighbor Davey (Jamie Abelson) believes he has accidentally run over the black cat with his bicycle. Padraic's father Donny (Matt DeCaro) has concocted a scheme to convince the terrorist that the cat—Padraic's only friend in the world, who he had left in his father's care during his current tour of duty—will have died of natural causes by the time Padraic has returned home, as Donny and Davey are certain the homicidal Padraic will kill them if he believes them responsible for Wee Thomas' death. They're right. Padraic's devotion to the cat, though, is also well known by members of the IRA splinter group (Gallagher, John Judd and Andy Luther) from which Padraic himself splintered off, and they use this knowledge to plan retaliation.

McDonagh's humor comes from the irony of his characters attempts to find some logic in the violence so natural to them after decades of warfare, even as it has become an ordinary aspect of their lives. The non-violent types such as Davey and Donny accept it as an everyday risk while those attracted to it—like Davey's 16-year old sister Mairead (Kelly O'Sullivan)—see it as an opportunity for a life of excitement and purpose beyond their dull rural island community.

There would be no way to do this play partway, and B.J. Jones' production is in no way timid about the violence, with the special effects by Steve Tolin providing ample amounts of blood spurting from chests and heads and covering the stage. His cast's great ensemble work delivers the irony in perfect pitch and harmony. Padraic is a breakout role for Chamberlain, who has worked a lot in Chicago but should get even more and better roles on the basis of this performance, giving the terrorist an utterly un-self awareness of the absurd persona he's created for himself. Mairead is another good part for the talented Kelly O'Sullivan, creating a believably steely 16-year old soldier-in-the-making. DeCaro and Abelson are a sort of Irish Abbott & Costello team, haplessly trying to work their way out of their predicament. Judd, Gallagher and Luther are suitably dim as the freedom fighters now more obsessed with fighting their own splinter groups than any external enemy.

Inishmore's mood is established perfectly by the realistic cottage and rural landscape designed by last year's Tony-winner (for August: Osage County), Todd Rosenthal. It's further enhanced by Andre Pluess' sound design and Chris Binder's lighting. It's a world far removed from the safe suburban environs of the theatre's suburban neighborhood and as edgy a piece and production as one would find anywhere in this city.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore will be performed through June 7th at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL. For tickets, visit, the box office, or call 847-673-6300.

Photo: Michael Brosilow

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