The Lieutenant of Inishmore
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 10, 2006
The Lieutenant of Inishmore is about a terrorist who, as he is just about to slice off one of the nipples of the drug dealer he's torturing, gets a cell phone call from his Dad, indicating that his beloved cat Wee Thomas is feeling poorly. So our terrorist—his named is Padraic—leaves his victim's nipple intact so that he can hurry home. What he doesn't know (but we do know, because we got to see it in the play's opening scene) is that Wee Thomas is not ill, but in fact dead, having been shot in the head and then run over by a bicycle. Padraic's father, Donny, and his dim-witted neighbor, Davey, are trying to keep the news from Padraic, who has a bad temper; and so they steal another cat and paint it black using shoe polish, in the hopes that it can pass for Wee Thomas when Padraic returns.
Later, three terrorists who work for the same organization as Padraic (a fictitious band called "INRA," supposedly a splinter group of disaffected ex-IRA men) turn up at Padraic's place with a plan to assassinate him. Further complicating matters is Davey's sister, 16-year-old Mairead, who wants to become a terrorist herself, and has blinded several cows with her pop gun as a sort of practice run (she says she's protesting against the meat industry).
Eventually all of these heavily armed people arrive in the same room and the carnage begins in earnest. The body count rivals Hamlet and the gore rivals Titus Andronicus (in one scene, Davey and Donny are seen wielding knives and saws, dismembering some of the dead bodies).
Does this stuff sound like the makings of the feel-good comedy of the season? Apparently a lot of folks seem to think so, including many of my colleagues in the critical corps and many members of the audience at the performance I attended. But I steadfastly refuse to find The Lieutenant of Inishmore hilarious.
This takes a little doing, mind you, because as playwright Martin McDonagh has demonstrated time and again, he's a talented writer with a warped but pungent wit. The scene in which Padraic interrupts his nipple-cutting to take a phone call is actually very funny in its dark way—it reminded me of the "Piranha Brothers" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus in its cruel and outlandish absurdism and its wicked satire.
But two unrelieved hours of heartless bloodshed proves excessive. Inishmore isn't a schoolboy's prank, but as the gratuitous grotesquerie mounts, it becomes hard to understand it as anything else. If it's satire, then I don't know what it's a satire of; if it's a tragedy, then McDonagh needs to insert some gravity and some consequences for a cast of characters who resolutely acknowledge neither as they blithely kill or maim (or watch other people kill or maim). If it's a horror tale à la Tarantino then I suggest that film would be a much more effective medium: it's impossible to scare people by sawing off the head of what's obviously a mannequin.
If it's just meant to be good fun, well...allow me to humbly and respectfully state that those who find this sort of thing fun may want to look into their hearts a little and see exactly how such a circumstance has come to pass. The Lieutenant of Inishmore isn't funny, not ultimately; but the fact that nobody seems to be particularly appalled by it stands as testament, it seems to me, to how degraded and desensitized our mainstream culture has become.
McDonagh's writing is up to his usual high standard, I just wish I knew why he wanted to squander his talent on stuff like this. Ditto the production, which is exemplary as far as it goes. David Wilmot (Padraic), Peter Gerety (Donny), Domhnall Gleeson (Davey), and Alison Pill (Mairead) have the most to do here, acting-wise, and all acquit themselves well. And some fine actors, such as Brian d'Arcy James, Dashiell Eaves, and Jeff Binder, are earning paychecks for supporting roles in this Mission: Impossible of Broadway shows; I guess that's a good thing. Scott Pask's set, Obadiah Eaves's sound, and Matt McKenzie's music (with lots of exciting percussion to heighten the suspense) are impressive as well.
Well-executed though it may be, it's hard for me to imagine that theatregoers really want to pay as much as $91.25 to see a thing as bleak and devoid of social purpose as this. I know I'd rather wait for a rerun of the "Piranha Brothers" Monty Python episode on BBC America.