By Vicki Paris Goodman
After seeing the Long Beach Playhouse’s outstanding production of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore, I became aware that some audience members objected strongly to the play’s subject matter. Violence against both humans and animals runs rampant throughout The Lieutenant. And in spite of appalling visuals, much of the audience was laughing, as the play is also a wonderfully crafted comedy. So consider this fair warning.
Yes, many audience members laughed loud and often at McDonagh’s witty dialogue as the human killings and mutilations mounted even faster than the animal casualties did. I was one of them. But The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a multi-level play intended, clearly, to be appreciated for its outstanding humor as well as for its condemnation of terrorism and revenge.
Set on an island off Northern Ireland, the play centers around the most unlikely of characters– a cat named Wee Thomas. For 15 years, the “top cat” has been the best and only friend to Padraic (Patrick Rieger), a frightening psychopathic young Irish chap who has gone off to fight the “good” fight for a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army. He has left Wee Thomas in the care of his father Donny (John Gilbert).
Rieger’s chilling portrayal arouses more curiosity than hatred as we struggle to understand how a relatively benign man such as Donny could have fathered such a son. Alas we are left to die of our curiosity– like the proverbial cat!– as this concern is not among those on McDonagh’s mind.
Early on, jovial neighbor lad Davey (Devon Armstrong) discovers a decapitated Wee Thomas in the street. Through most of the play, Donny and Davey conspire to keep the poor cat’s death a secret from Padraig, fearing Padraig’s violent reaction if and when he discovers the cat is dead. They substitute an orange cat, coloring it with black shoe polish in an obviously futile attempt to fool Padraig, who shoots the impostor immediately upon his return home.
Thus begins the unspeakable carnage that continues when three members of another splinter group seek revenge against Padraig. Arber Mehmeti, Topher Mauerhan, and Mark Coyan play the “charming” trio, who are every bit as coldblooded as Padraig.
As the cast’s sole female member, Jannese Davidson portrays Davey’s sister Mairead, a sort of boyish Bonnie to Padraig’s Clyde. The two take to each other romantically, but she is every bit as murderous as he is. And, as the rather satisfying twist ending reveals, just as merciless.
Matthew Collins plays James, a drug dealer whose greatest misfortune is having Padraig be his assigned torturer.
In the end, bodies– both human and feline– get dissected before our eyes. Blood is all over the furniture and the clothes of those still breathing, and they don’t seem to give it a second thought. Perhaps this is McDonagh’s main point– the terrorist mentality and that of those who live among them. See how immune they have become to what we find utterly appalling.
Okay, so I’ve succeeded in either stimulating readers’ fascination, or turning them off entirely to McDonagh’s bloody play. I would ask that you consider that the play’s excessive violence, and all of the characters’ ease and seeming familiarity with it, are so overdone as to be unreal. So much so that we are left to ponder the fact over all else.
In the meantime, we can laugh out loud and enjoy the brilliance of McDonagh’s dialogue and the excellence of director Patrick Williams’s phenomenal cast.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore continues in the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through Feb. 12. General admission tickets are $22; $20 for seniors. Student tickets are $12 with valid student ID. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org.