by Martin McDonagh
directed by Jeremy Skidmore
produced by Signature Theatre
reviewed by Steven McKnight
Halloween has arrived early at Signature, where Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore offers an abundance of gruesome fun. This witty mix of black comedy, farce, and satire receives a gleeful production that will delight anyone who can handle its realistic violence and shocking humor. The story revolves around the dilemma faced by the Donny (John Lescault) and Davey (Matthew McGloin), temporary caretakers of Wee Thomas, a cat that is killed on a country road. Should they try to break the news to the owner gently or try to find a replacement tabby? What separates this story from a lame situation comedy is the fact that the cat’s owner is Padraic, a violent Irish terrorist who belongs to a splinter group since he was too mad to be accepted by the IRA.
The audience initially meets Padraic (Karl Miller) while he is in the midst of calmly torturing a drug dealer named James (Jason Stiles). When he learns that the cat who has been his only friend for 15 years is doing “poorly,” Padraic is instantly unhinged by grief and concern, demanding that his father Donny “put Wee Thomas on the phone!” Padraic immediately heads back to Inishmore, an island in Ireland’s Galway Bay, where some of his colleagues (Tim Getman, Michael Glenn, and Joe Isenberg) await him.
Padraic first encounters Mairead (Casie Platt), a 16-year-old tomboy and aspiring freedom fighter who wanted to leave with Padraic when she was eleven. She has romanticized both terrorism and Padraic and she longs to join him in his paramilitary republican rebellion. While Padraic spurns her initial overtures, Mairead is a determined young woman who won’t easily abandon her quest.
Once Padraic arrives home the action and the violence steadily accelerate. Soon multiple macabre undertakings occur, which causes Davey to lament that “It’s incidents like this that does put tourists off of Ireland.”
Martin McDonough is known for his ability to wring humor out of the juxtaposition of shocking brutality and prosaic dialogue. Yet in this play he also demonstrates his ability to craft witty dialogue and a suspenseful plot, leading to a twisty ending that both entertains and satirizes. By the play’s end the theatre is full of both laughter and a few gallons of stage blood.
Signature has given The Lieutenant of Inishmore (a recent Broadway hit that received five Tony® Award nominations in 2006) a fine production. Acting standouts include John Lescault, who gives Donny a textured character and nails the matter-of-fact humor just right; Casie Platt as a charismatic Mairead who is convincing at every stage of her character’s evolution; and, Jason Stiles whose brief role as a torture victim is gem of comic acting. Overall the cast handles the witty dialogue and the Irish dialect with skill, and there’s nary a weak performance in the cast.
Director Jeremy Skidmore manages both the dramatic tension and comic timing of the work with equal dexterity. With the help of Dale Anthony Girard, fight director and choreographer, the play features forceful and dramatic stage violence. Daniel Conway’s design of the rural Irish cottage is spot on and nicely complimented by the skilled lighting design of Dan Covey.
If you have problems with shows like Sweeney Todd, think twice before attending this production. Everyone else will heartily enjoy the mixture of horror and hilarity that is The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
Running Time: 1:40 (no intermission).
Where: The Ark at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington VA.
When: Though November 16, 2008. Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 7:00 pm, and matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm.
Tickets: $44-$71. Call Ticketmaster (703-573-SEAT) or visit the website.