The transfer of Martin McDonagh’s "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" from
Off-Broadway to Broadway was anticipated soon after it opened to
laudatory reviews earlier this season. Certainly the blood-soaked
events and vengeance-motivated behavior that fuel the horrifically
funny play makes "Sweeney Todd" look like a stroll down Park Lane. And
that’s formidable competition. Whether it continues to generate the
same excitement uptown remains to be seen.
The Off-Broadway cast, save one, is intact. The impact of Wilson
Milam’s direction that emphasizes the spilling and spurting of blood
should have no trouble reaching to the upper rows of the Lyceum
Theater’s second balcony. That there is a sizable enough audience with
a taste for it is potentially problematic. Let’s hope that Lestat
doesn’t get wind of it. At the press preview I attended, the audience
laughed loudly and responded with enthusiasm to the play’s ironies and
the characters’ idiocies.
The Irish playwright’s audaciously subversive political perspective
should create the same excitement in New York as it did in its initial
premiere showings first in 2001 in Stratford, then a year later in
London. "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" takes its political message to
the extreme. It is closer in temperament to the gross perversity that
fuels the fraternal horrors of "The Pillowman" (recently seen at the
George Street Playhouse) than it is to the distressful mother and
daughter relationship in his most popular play, "The Beauty Queen of
Leenane." In "The Lieutenant," it is a father and son that give a
particularly mean-spirited shape to the plot.
The extremist splinter, i.e. terrorist, groups of Republican Ireland
are evidently inclined to turn on themselves as viciously and with as
much moral uncertainty as they are prepared to inflict on others by
whom they feel threatened. And they do it with a reckless delight
within this play in which people are humiliated, tortured, and hacked
up without a second thought. But McDonagh has a way of making all the
mayhem and slaughter outrageously funny.
The real surprise is how even the faint of heart are not likely to be
turned off, but rather inclined to accept the slicing and dicing of
human flesh, the reckless shootings and rampant brutality as
inescapable parts of the plot with its many ironic twists and turns.
Wilson Milam’s bold direction is everywhere in evidence. It is to his
credit that all the murder and mayhem perpetrated by a militaristic
psychopath, his equally skewed lover, and others are seen in broadly
comical terms, and certainly in cahoots with McDonagh’s vision.
The carnage begins with Padraic (David Wilmot), the schizoid title
character whose methods of interrogation have made him not only an
outcast of the IRA but considered a loose cannon among the splinter
group INLA. You know you are in for it from the minutes the lights
come up on the bloodied body of a drug dealer suspended upside down
from the ceiling. Padraic is in the midst of torturing him when he is
distracted by a call from his father Donny (Peter Gerety) informing
him that Wee Thomas, the cat he has left in his care, is doing poorly.
Padraic’s fellow thugs in the INLA have decided that he is a liability
and have devised a ploy – the "poorly" cat – to lure Padraic back to
his home where they intend to murder him. The truth is that the cat
has been mutilated by them. But Donny is convinced that it was Davey
(Domhnall Gleeson), a young lad from the neighborhood, who ran over
the cat with his bike. Fearing for their own lives, they concoct a
plan to keep Padraic from blaming them for the cat’s death.
The excellent new member of the cast is Allison Pill, who has replaced
original cast member Kerry Condon, as Mairead, the reckless
16-year-old gun-crazed tomboy with aspirations of creating her own
two-person splinter group with Padraic, for whom she has the hots.
Things go awry when Mairead’s cat meets a similar fate and the tables
are turned on a would-be member of a splinter terrorist group.
The coarseness of the dialogue, with its barrage of "fecking" this and
"fecking" that is also filled with wit, as when Donny casually remarks
about one particularly nasty event, "It’s incidents like this that
does put tourists off Ireland." Designer Scott Pask has created the
play’s setting – the interior of a modest Irish cottage – to withstand
two acts of bloody carnage. Deserving of a special bow are those in
charge of props who have to clean up after each performance, not to
mention a talented cat, who doesn’t give a meow. Four stars.
"The Lieutenant of Inishmore," Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45th Street.
$36.25 to $91.25. 212-239-6200.