The Lieutenant of Inishmore
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
March 9, 2006
Let’s get the warnings out of the way first: Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant Of Inishmore is very violent. There is torture, dismemberment, blinding, desecration of corpses, and point-blank execution of people and animals. It was necessary for the Atlantic Theater to post a sign in the lobby with the standard ASPCA advisory that “no animals were harmed in the production of this play.” Those who are especially sensitive to violence against people or animals, especially cats, should consider this fair warning.
But if you do go, it’s also really funny.
The Lieutenant of the title is Padraic, played by David Wilmot, who is such an impassioned and violent man that the IRA rejected him for being too crazy. Padraic has one great love—his pet cat, Wee Thomas, whom he’s had since he was a boy and considers his best friend. He left Wee Thomas with his father Dan (Peter Gerety) back in the Aran Island town of Inishmore while he was on the Irish mainland fighting with an IRA splinter group. But at the very top of the play, Dan and a local boy, Davey (Domhnall Gleeson), have just discovered the body of Wee Thomas lying on the road, brains knocked out. Padraic, they know, is not going to be pleased.
Their first plan, to make a series of calls to Padraic over the course of a week to tell him of Wee Thomas’s decline and death from an illness, spins out of control when a distraught Padraic says he’s coming home the minute he learns Thomas is sick. Davey is dispatched to find another black cat to stand in for “Thomas,” finally resorting to covering an orange tabby with shoe polish. Complicating things for the pair are Padraic’s fellow Irish National Liberation Army members (Andrew Connolly, Dashiell Eaves, and Brian D’Arcy James) who all seem to know more about the death of Wee Thomas than they’re letting on. There is even a budding romance between Padraic and Davey’s sister Mairead (Kerry Condon), a militant hopeful and expert shot with a pellet gun who shares Padraic’s loves of Ireland and of cats. Speaking of cats, her orange tabby Sir Roger is now missing….
McDonagh gives the cast a lot to work with, but under the direction of Wilson Milam, the company pulls off the juggling act with aplomb, carrying not only the tight, crackling plot but also the comedy in it. Everyone in the play has a character quirk that leads to a laugh—even James (Jeff Binder), the drug dealer Padraic is torturing when he gets the call about Thomas’s “illness,” stops his pleading for mercy to offer Padraic advice about how to pill a cat. The chaotic final scenes—after which the stage is littered with dead bodies, blood, wooden stakes, two handsaws, guns, a box of cereal, and half a can of shoe polish—make perfect, if crazy, sense as every last loose end manages to get tied up. (If I may also add one personal note—speaking as a stage manager myself, I’d like to tip my hat to stage manager James Harker and his crew for having to clean all that up every night.)
Some have said the play is about the folly of the escalation of sectarian violence that has plagued so much of Irish history. And yes, “the patriot game” is what motivates many of the characters. But the play reminded me more of Pulp Fiction than it did Borstal Boy—it’s an outrageous comedy that just happens to have a lot of blood, gore, and quirky characters of questionable virtue. Gerety and Gleeson’s conversations in particular sound very like John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson discussing the “royale with cheese.”
The Lieutenant of Inishmore received raves at its world premiere in London in 2003, and stands ready to enjoy the same success here. Just be warned that if you’re a cat owner, you’re probably going to feel a little guilty about laughing at some parts—just pick up some Fancy Feast on the way home, maybe.