Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
Senseless violence erupts; headlines appear once again; we read stunned for a few minutes; we move on in our daily lives.
In his 2001, much-awarded The Lieutenant of Inishmore, one of the most celebrated and produced playwrights of the new century, Martin McDonagh, forces us to see firsthand the cavalier-like callousness behind a series of needless acts of torture and murder. More shocking, he ensures that we laugh aloud as we witness a dark comedy that drips with bloody violence and overflows with unapologetic humor. Even as we the audience cringe at yet another act of physical or weapon-related violence, our laughter again erupts.
Under the astute, no-holes-barred direction of Joshua Marx, The Stage presents a shockingly horrific and a totally hilarious The Lieutenant of Inishmoreninety minutes that keeps us on the edge of our seats with our hands often wanting to hide our eyes while at the same time we continue to howl with guilty laughter.
And in this case, the needless violence is all because a cat named Wee Thomas has been killed. Late-teen Davey brings a badly injured cat into his fifty-something friend's Irish cottage on the Isle of Inishmore. As soon as ol' Donny takes the lifeless body from Davey, he is horrifiedboth because the cat's brains drop on the floor and because he recognizes it is the much-beloved cat of his son. That horror does not come from just feeling sorry for his son but from fear of what his son's retribution might be when he blames his Dad for not taking good care of Wee Thomas. After all, his son is Mad Padraic, the leader of a small, homegrown terrorist group called the INLA. He formed the group that splintered from the IRA after "the IRA wouldn't let in because he was too mad."
Padraic is a self-declared vigilante who believes he can win Ireland's freedom by putting bombs in chip shopseven though they never seem to go off. He also does not hesitate to hang a former, boyhood friend, James, upside down after first yanking off a couple of his toe nails. Now intent on cutting off a nipple because James sells marijuana to school kids, Padraic taunts and threats while we watch ... and yes, laugh. And now, after Donny calls Padraic to tell him that Wee Thomas is "feeling poorly," he will be rushing home to find the cat in fact dead!
In order to ward off possible disaster, Davey and Donny concoct a plan to use black shoe polish to color a found, yellow cat to look like Wee Thomas (but unfortunately for them, not really). To calm their nerves, they down so much Irish whiskey to leave them in a bundled heap asleep the next morning when Padraic arrives. With their hands, arms, and even faces covered in black swatches and the stand-in for Wee Thomas still dripping and smelling of polish, impending disaster hangs in the air.
All is only part of the set-up for the fury that will storm through this humble cottage in the next couple of hours. More hell continues to burst forward when Donny's wannabe-soldier sister (who has the hots for Padraic) figures out the now-murdered, second cat is her own beloved tabby, Sir Roger. Even more doom and destruction mars the four walls when three disgruntled INLA members arrive unexpected, intending to oust for good Mad Padraic as their leader. The wooden floor of the cottage begins to fill with bodies and blood; and all along, we laugh and laugh.
The ensemble assembled for this attention-gripping production is to a person stellar, in roles large and small. Tremendous kudos go to dialect coach Kimberly Mohne Hill who has ensured that each member has a heavy, Gaelic accent authentic and yet understandable. When intergenerational pals Donny (Randall King) and Davey (Trevor March) joust over who is really to blame for Wee Thomas' demise, their "fecking" verbal battles are hilarious, while their fear of what may happen to them is written all over their trembling bodies and eyes reflecting sheer terror. Randall King's gravelly, rough vocals as Donny offer a great contrast to the boy-like, singsong of Trevor March's Davey. Their back-and-forth duet of outlandish planning and counter-planning (as well as their apparent goodbyes several times to each other and to life itself) is a highlight of the production.
Rob August is the ever so handsome devil himself, Mad Padraic, who comes home laden with guns and knives and has no compunction about using them, whether against those he has deemed bad for Ireland or those who have in his mind betrayed him, even if it is his own Da. Full of brash and bully, his Padraic can be reduced to blubbering tears any time he thinks of "me best friend in the world," that is, Wee Thomas. He shows no hesitation to enact cruelty, while at the same time he can interrupt a tortuous act to interact civilly with sudden, soft heart in small talk with his terrified victim. Mad Padraic is the worst of devils that Rob August will not allow us totally to hate, but instead to find sometimes almost charming and likeable.
Into this ever-mounting scenario of possible doom enters Davey's intrepid sister, Mairead, dressed in camouflage and carrying her pop gun that, which uses to blind cows at sixty feet (all part of her self-initiated campaign "against the fecking meat trade"). Carley Herlihy is this sixteen-year-old backyard soldier, cocky, calculating, fearless, and heartlessheartless, that is, except in her passionate pursuit of Mad Padraic. Her intent to join as his second lieutenant and eventually as his wife knows no boundaries when it comes to what she will do to meet her goals. Ms. Herlihy is scary in her ability to portray so convincingly this wild warrior of the isle of Inishmore.
Rounding out this cast and themselves both intentional perpetrators and targeted victims of possible violence are John Flanagan as one-eyed, gruff Christy, Loki Miller as soft-spoken Joey, and Brendon Quirk as bad boy Brendana trio of INLA-ers who mean to commit mutiny against their leader, Padraic. Andy Cooperfauss as the small-time drug dealer James spends much of his stage time hanging upside down and worrying about which nipple he is about to lose.
Along with the rather homey cottage we initially see as we enter the theatre that Christopher Fitzer has cleverly designed, Steve Schoenbeck (sound designer) also allures us with snappy, happy Irish music into believing that this tale is going to be as pleasant as the green Irish countryside we know is outside the cottage. The sounds he creates later as the terror mounts are of quite a different lot, being no more idyllic or pleasant than the special effects of Ashley Garlick and Bill Vujevich or the shocking properties and gory blood designed by Tunuveil Luvbut all somehow still laugh-producing. Abra Berman contributes to the Irish countryside feel as well as the terror that has descended into it through her well-mounted costumes. Finally, the lighting of John Bernard capstones the work of this fine creative team who together ensure that director Marx's production will repulse when it should and amuse greatly when it probably should not, but fortunately does.
Even as we can barely take in any more fearful events while also unable to keep from being wickedly entertained, we cannot help but agree with Davey when he declares, "Worse and worse and worse this story gets ... worse and fecking worse." And it is about then that we realize that is exactly the message Martin McDonagh wants us to hear in his The Lieutenant of Inishmore. How much worse has it in fact gotten in our own world of repeated, senseless shootings since the playwright penned those lines seventeen or so years ago? As we leave the theatre, we can only ponder another Davey quote: "Will it end, will it never fecking end?"
The Lieutenant of Inishmore, through October 21, 2018, at The Stage, 490 First Street, San Jose CA. Tickets are available at www.thestage.org.