Martin McDonagh lays all his cards on the table at the onset of his black comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The corpse of a black cat is plopped down on a table at center stage, the open cavity that was its head leaking chunky gore onto the floor. Two fellas, Donny and Davey, stare at the body morosely, arguing about who killed it while Donny scoops its brains into a spittoon with his bare hand. (It was Davey, on the bicycle, out in the street.) You either laugh, or you walk out.
You can see why Theatre Macabre opted for this particular play as its "hello" to St. Louis. The new company vows to mount shows that explore the darker side of life, and Lieutenant doesn't shy away from gore or its twisted characters. And while director Nick Kelly mines a great deal of laughter from geysers of blood and the casual cruelty exhibited by a cross-section of Ireland's most devoted paramilitary freedom fighters, he doesn't dip too far below the scabrous surface of the show. Almost lost in the gore is McDonagh's sharp commentary on the truth of Ireland's great "patriots": They're all kill-happy maniacs who are too busy fighting personal wars to liberate the country from their unseen English oppressors. Indeed, the only oppressors in evidence are heavily armed friends, neighbors and relatives.
Charlie Barron plays the titular lieutenant, Padraic. He's currently freelancing for the Irish National Liberation Army, mostly by torturing drug dealers in Northern Ireland. Donny (Chuck Brinkley) is his father, and that dead cat was Padraic's only friend, Wee Thomas. Donny can't bring himself to tell Padraic the bad news, because he knows his son will shoot him in the back of the head for failing to take good care of the kitty. Instead Donny tells him that Wee Thomas is "unwell," which causes Padraic to head home to nurse his friend.
Barron is excellent, as usual, clapping his hands with childlike glee when he discovers the man he's currently torturing also has a cat; a moment later his eyes go flat black when he suspects his victim is lying to avoid having his nipple cut off.
What Padraic doesn't know is that some of his fellow freedom fighters are waiting for him in Inishmore, and not with open arms. One-eyed Christy (Chuck Winning) wants revenge for Padraic shooting out his missing eye. His pals Joey (Jake Blonstein) and Brendan (Brock Russell) are prepared to back him up, but only if they can stop fighting among themselves. Winning's pompous but ill-informed Christy goes pop-eyed every time Brendan laconically corrects him on a misattributed quote, which Christy liberally sprinkles throughout his pep talks.
- NICOLA MUSCROFT
- Alas, poor Wee Thomas.
There's also a wild card in the mix, Davey's sister Mairead (Larissa White). She's a sixteen-year-old romantic who loves the old rebel ballads, shooting people in the face with her pellet gun and Padraic. White gives Mairead a gangly teenage charm, dancing across the stage as she sings and laughing delightedly when she clips Davey's cheek with a 60-yard shot.
Meanwhile Donny and Davey (Mark Saunders) are holed up at Donny's place, hatching a cockamamie scheme to cover up the death of Wee Thomas. The pair are a warped and profane double act who steal the show with their comic desperation. As the only civilians present, they represent the cause everybody else is purportedly fighting for, yet the mismatched pair are targets for abuse from all sides.
Of course all the armed lunatics end up in Donny's living room, vowing to kill or be killed for their various causes. Everybody happily gets their wish in a spectacular bloodbath that shocks not just because of the body count, but because of who survives. There really is more than one way to skin a cat, and you'll witness almost all of them in this fast-paced grand guignol.