Unhinged Terrorist Misses the Mark in Brutal’Inishmore’
The Signature Theatre’s elegant new digs get splattered in blood in playwright Martin McDonagh’s briskly paced but ultimately uneven black comedy “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”
Set mostly in a ramshackle cabin on a remote Irish island, the 100-minute, one-act play aims to shock its audience while making us laugh at the maniacal absurdity and hypocrisy of terrorism. The hard-working cast and director Jeremy Skidmore definitely deliver plenty of cold-blooded gore, but the belly laughs are few and far between — at least until the end, and most of those are the result of blood flying, not particularly witty repartee.
The play opens in the cabin as two of the dimmest characters ever to step foot on a local stage contemplate the inert body of a shaggy cat. As it turns out, the lifeless animal belongs to Padraic, a terrorist so unhinged that he’s been rejected by the IRA. Padraic’s father Donny and his neighbor Davey — after taking way too long to determine that the skull-crushed feline is, in fact, dead — begin to fret over how they will break the news to the murderous Padraic.
For you see, Padraic, when he is not pulling out a drug dealer’s toenails with pliers or bombing bars in Northern Ireland, enjoys nothing more than doting on his beloved kitty. It’s unclear who killed the furry feline, but someone is definitely going to pay.
One of the play’s more authentic scenes comes early, as Padraic (convincingly portrayed by Karl Miller) is deciding which nipple of the aforementioned drug dealer to slice off during an extended bout of torture unrelated to his dead kitty. Padraic’s phone rings and he takes a break to answer it, leaving his hapless subject dangling upside down from a rope in midair as Padraic absorbs the bad news delivered by his father. The scene shows us the dual nature — and inherent hypocrisy — of a character who cherishes the life of his cat but gives no thought to offing a few humans in the name of politics.
Davey is another prominent character — played with a large degree of sexual ambiguity by Matthew McGloin — intended to generate a lot of laughs. He sports a ludicrous head full of long red locks and rides around on a pink bike with tassels sprouting from the handlebars. And although McGloin is an accomplished actor, too often in “Inishmore” his ham-fisted delivery and overwrought facial expressions telegraph his punch lines from a mile away, diminishing their effectiveness.
McDonagh, a widely respected Irish playwright, seems to be aiming for something akin to Quentin Tarantino’s shockingly funny “Pulp Fiction” or the so-brutal-you-have-to-laugh “Reservoir Dogs” — and he is frequently compared to the hipster director. But McDonagh’s dialogue lacks Tarantino’s sarcastic, world-weary edge. Tarantino’s characters don’t mine laughs from their stupidity. In fact, they’re often of at least average and sometimes above-average intelligence. It’s the stupid situations they get themselves into — and their reactions to them — that provide the laughs.
The play’s most effective scenes come toward the end, when Padraic’s similarly murderous henchmen show up looking for him at his father’s cabin after a falling out. Now the blood really begins to fly, and the outrageousness of the violence does begin to incite involuntary gales of laughter.
Pistols, rifles, razor blades and even hacksaws generate a seemingly never-ending tidal wave of the red stuff. Especially effective in this sequence is Mairead, played with great zest by Casie Platt. Mairead harbors a deep love for Padraic, and her sharp-shooting prowess saves the day, and nearly the play.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore through Nov. 16 Signature Theatre 4200 Campbell Ave.Arlington, Va. Tickets are to . For more information, please call (703) 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.
About the Author
Michael Coleman is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.