Sometimes it’s nice to know what you’re getting yourself into when you see a play for the first time. Sometimes, it’s not. I’m still deciding about Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the first co-production of Southern Repertory and The NOLA Project and the first offering of Southern Rep’s 2007-2008 season.
I can’t decide if I would have liked it more if I was familiar with the dialogue or did I like the production because it exceeded my expectations. Either way, this five Tony nominee and multi-award winning comedy was well acted, well produced, well directed and gut-wrenchingly funny in its New Orleans staging.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore tells the tale of Padraic, a crazy Irishman who splinters away from the Irish Republican Army to seize justice on his own terms. When his pet cat and best friend Wee Thomas goes missing, justice takes on new meaning. Let the blood begin!
Whether you like cats or despise them, whether civil unrest in Ireland causes you concern, The Lieutenant of Inishmore will have you thinking about kitty blood and guts as you define the terms bloody funny and trigger-happy. At the same time, you will be asking yourself “why am I laughing about dead cats, body parts, torture and terror?” From the introduction of a dead cat in the opening scene through the “poor, poor kitty” developments amidst Padraic’s anguish, rage and revenge, you will be intrigued and impressed by an acting troop delivering an adrenaline charged production. When you can see neck veins bulging and throbbing from more than one of the actor’s depicting terror and anger, you know you are seeing a passionate production. Director Noel Wilson does an excellent job of pushing the cast to the edge in interpreting McDonagh’s well-edited script.
As curly-haired Davey, who gets the action going bemoaning the death of Wee Thomas, Andrew Larimer looks like an angelic Irish lad, providing an outstanding balance between the crazies and not-so-crazies. He clearly is the focal point in each of his scenes, from fighting with his sister to camouflaging a kitty with shoe polish.
Mad, or should we say the insane? Lieutenant Padraic, portrayed by Peter McElligott, is captivating throughout the production. He handles his character’s mood swings and erratic behavior with compelling transitions. You know those people who would knock an old lady down and step on her face to grab a taxi but would cry five hours over a thorn in a cat’s paw? That’s how McElligott befittingly interprets the role – and then some!
George Sanchez as Padraic’s father Donny is obviously comfortable not only in his role as a besotted Irishman but also on the stage. His experience is evidenced, adding just the right touch to his thought-provoking funny lines. Sanchez’s interpretation of the role helps you understand why the son is off balance.
Extra congrats for James Bartelle as James, alleged drug dealer and target of Padraic’s first lunacy display. Bartelle, who hangs upside down for the majority of his stage time, demonstrates extraordinary athleticism and a gift for crisp enunciation in trying circumstances. He is a welcome addition to the New Orleans theatre community.
Feminists take note. Kathlyn Tarwater as Mairead, the gun-toting and only female in the production, has quite a pivotal role in this bloody tale. She proves, without a doubt, that you can get a man with a gun – in more ways than one. Tarwater presents an intriguing character drifting through stages of immaturity, maturity, compassion, irrationality, lust, determination and quest for control. Her scenes on stage alone and her lilting Irish patriotic songs are as eerily disturbing and as amusing as necessary to reach the play’s climax. While the entire cast did a superb job with an Irish dialect (you did have to pay strict attention, however, if you were not familiar with the lines), Tarwater was the most difficult to understand. Just a tad slower pace would have helped in the delivery of her critical lines.
Dane Rodes, AJ Allegra and Will Connelly round out the cast as Irish patriots with their own standards and causes. Catholics will particularly enjoy their discussions of right and wrong, with a nod to the Jesuits.
The very simple set depicting the inside of Padraic’s family home in Inishmore works extremely well for the lively action. In combination with lighting, scenes outside of the home are particularly realistic as in the first act torturing of James. Just a rope at the edge of the set and the right lighting give you the feel of a dingy backroom.
Words are not sufficient to describe costumes, special effects and interesting props. You have to see this production to understand how much blood is required for each show. Good job from the artistic staff Sean Creel, Christian Smith, Michelle Bohn, Waldo Warshaw, Jeffrey Roche and the stage management of Michelle Kelleher and Sean Glazebrook.
You can view The Lieutenant of Inishmore from several perspectives. It could be just a dark comedy; a statement about the Irish at war; a statement about animal lovers, or a production filled with so much underlying symbolism that you have a foundation for a dissertation. No matter what approach you take, you’re guaranteed to think twice the next time a black cat enters your pathway.
Back Row Facts
Length of Play: you will be out in two hours.
Language and Lewd Factor – lots and lots!
Family fitness - no, no, no – do not take kids or faint-hearted to see this show.
It’s a puzzlement! Do the Irish people really curse with every other word? If yes, I guess I’m not as Irish as I thought.