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 in tact. 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. ****
“The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45th Street. $36.25 to $91.25. 212-239-6200.