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The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Padraic is a crazy man. Too mad for the IRA, he has appointed himself a lieutenant in a paramilitary splinter group. He carries two pistols, likes to shoot men at point-blank range, and has left home to plant bombs and torture drug dealers (it would be okay if they sold only to Protestants ...). And the one creature in the world that Padraic loves ... the only thing on earth that he ever had a tender feeling toward, is his black cat, whom he has left in the care of his father. And now, that cat, Wee Thomas, is dead.

Things won't go well for Padraic's father Donny, who knows that he ranks way below the feline in Padraic's estimation. And it certainly won't go well for Davey, the guy who accidentally ran over Wee Thomas with his bike. Padraic—when we first meet him—is ripping out a man's toenails and threatening to cut off his nipples. This is not the sort of man who will just shake off bad news about his furry friend.

And so, Donny and Davey find themselves solidly in harebrained scheme territory, as they try to come up with a way to make Padraic think the cat isn't dead. By the time they're slathering another cat with shoe polish, The Lieutenant of Inishmore starts to look like some sort of demented episode of "I Love Lucy"—only, in this universe, Ricky Ricardo is very likely to shoot Lucy and Ethel in the head.

It's a farce—a very dark, very bloody, farce—in which the slamming doors are gunshots and the protagonists are pretty much just hoping to make it out alive. It's hilarious and disgusting at the same time.

It's also brilliantly theatrical. By which I mean: it's theatre, and can't work any other way. Reading Martin McDonagh's script on a page would deprive you of the experience—this isn't a show you passively watch but a roller coaster journey you're taken on. And it wouldn't work in the privacy of your living room on video—its immediacy is a part of its success. But even more than that, this is a play you have to see with an audience, because the audience's reactions are as much a part of this play as any lines or stage directions.

You don't have to look too hard to realize McDonagh is saying something about crazed violence and misplaced priorities when his play is about someone who values a cat's life over that of his own father. But what really made me think on the way home from the Taper—and for the entire next day—is that the audience was "Awww"-ing over the prop dead cat, but laughing over the prop bloody human bodies—and that's exactly what McDonagh intended for us to do.

Actually, it's McDonagh and director Wilson Milam, who directed this play in both its UK world premiere and on Broadway, and has—with a local design team—put together a confident and slick production. Chris Pine brings his considerable talents to the character of Padraic, giving us a man who very clearly thinks he's smarter, more dangerous, and more virtuous than he actually is. Zoe Perry plays Mairead, a teenage sharpshooter who wishes Padraic would notice her beauty and her skills with a rifle. Perry first comes on as soft spoken, and doesn't seem to have the strength Mairead needs; but Perry knows what she's doing, and Mairead's journey throughout the play is ultimately chilling. There's also solid work from Séan G. Griffin and Coby Getzug as Donny and Davey, the two well-meaning shlubs who find themselves in a nightmare all because of a dead cat.

There is much made of the amount of bloodshed in this play. Indeed, at the performance reviewed, one of the actors slid in the blood when coming out for the curtain call. But if you can handle the blood, The Lieutenant of Inishmore provides an evening of uproarious laughter—followed, perhaps, by some reflection over whether any of this is really funny at all.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore runs at the Mark Taper Forum through August 8, 2010. For tickets and information see

Center Theatre Group—Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director—presents The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh. Scenic Design by Laura Fine Hawkes; Costume Design by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; Lighting Design by Brian Gale; Sound Design by Cricket S. Myers; Fight Director Steve Rankin; Special Prosthetic Effects Matthew W. Mungle; Special Effects by Waldo Warshaw; Original Music Matt McKenzie; Dialect Coach Carla Meyer; Casting Erika Sellin, CSA; Associate Producer Neel Keller; Production Stage Manager David S. Franklin. Directed by Wilson Milam.

Donny - Séan G. Griffin
Davey - Coby Getzug
Padraic - Chris Pine
James - Brett Ryback
Mairead - Zoe Perry
Christy - Andrew Connolly
Brendan - Kevin Kearns
Joey - Ian Alda

- Sharon Perlmutter

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