The Lieutenant of Inishmore
There's plenty of blood in Capital T Theatre's staging, but also plenty of laughs and plenty to think about
Reviewed by Dan Solomon, Fri., June 14, 2013
The Lieutenant of InishmoreHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through June 22
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.
There's a lot of blood in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Some is dried, caked onto the hands and faces of people trying to survive an unstable situation; some is fresh, coming from a person (or, on more than one occasion, a cat) who has been freshly wounded; and some sprays out suddenly and violently. It's an unlikely prop in one of the funnier comedies to grace an Austin stage this year, but that's playwright Martin McDonagh for you.
McDonagh enjoyed unprecedented success during the mid-Aughties – he was the first playwright since Shakespeare to have four plays performed simultaneously in London – mostly as the result of shocking, funny, violent, and unpredictable work like The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Theatre hasn't seen many playwrights with both the hubris to demand the impossible (at least one script calls for a live cat to perform onstage) and the resources to see it carried out.
It's to the credit of Capital T Theatre Artistic Director Mark Pickell that even in a town with resources more modest than those of the London companies that launched McDonagh, The Lieutenant of Inishmore reaches our stage well-realized. When the script calls for someone to be tortured while hanging upside down, the artists here don't cheat, and when guns are fired, they're fired with none of the staginess that typically precedes that sort of illusion.
The play is about Padraic, the crazy, young lieutenant of an IRA splinter group, who returns home to the tiny island of Inishmore, in Ireland's Galway Bay, when he's informed that his cat is doing poorly, then proceeds to wreak havoc on all whose paths he crosses.
That violence is what The Lieutenant of Inishmore hinges on, with the absurdity of terrorism juxtaposed with the emotional lives of terrorists. (How can one be devastated by a sick cat but blasé about blowing up children?) What saves the play from accusations of gore-for-gore's-sake is its depiction of the mayhem that Padraic revels in as a reflection of a culture that worships bloodthirsty heroes in films, treats strength and violence interchangeably, and implicitly endorses the notion of collateral damage. It's written as a commentary on young manhood (more than once, characters mention that Padraic is 21 years old), though with Jason Liebrecht, who's visibly in his mid-30s, in the title role, it's harder to see Padraic as a young man full of violent, crazy dreams; he seems more like a hardened terrorist who's never overcome his fascination with torture and bloodletting.
Still, there are worse problems a show can have than having its gifted lead be a little too old for the part. There's plenty to enjoy, and think about, in The Lieutenant of Inishmore – and the sheer audacity of that much blood onstage is worth remarking on, too.