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.

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