The bloody mayhem that envelops Martin McDonagh's "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" explodes as effectively on Broadway as it did off-Broadway.
In fact, McDonagh's dark, dangerous satire on Irish terrorism plays even sharper, surer and funnier in the larger confines of Broadway's Lyceum Theatre, where the comedy reopened Wednesday after a successful run at the small Atlantic Theater Company.
McDonagh, London-born but with roots in Ireland, is a natural storyteller with an idiosyncratic way with a phrase. He's got that great Irish gift of gab, conversations that a strong cast, under the astute direction of Wilson Milam, deliver with remarkable finesse.
"Inishmore" tells the story of a splinter-group terrorist named Padraic who returns home after being told that his beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is doing poorly. Padraic's obtuse father, Donny, and his equally dimwitted neighbor, Davey, are quaking over what the volatile man might do if he learns they are keeping a dead feline. As played by Peter Gerety and Domhnall Gleeson, these two inept cat-sitters are comic delights.
You don't want to ruffle Padraic, portrayed with wild-eyed agitation by a steely David Wilmot. When we first meet him, he is torturing a drug dealer (Jeff Binder) who has the temerity to sell marijuana to school kids, Catholic school children, no less. Padraic, you see, has certain standards. Crazed, but standards nonetheless.
There are streaks of violence in several of McDonagh's other fine plays, such as "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" and "The Pillowman," but they don't compare with the orgy of bloodletting that occurs here, so be warned.
Padraic is pursued home by three fellow terrorists (Andrew Connolly, Dashiell Eaves and Brian d'Arcy James) who are not fond of their colleague's independence. But the man has captured the heart of a young local female, a would-be revolutionary (Alison Pill, a welcome new addition to the cast). The girl practices her sharp shooting by taking the eyes out of cows. It's a skill that comes in handy during a gory Act 2.
McDonagh has outrageous fun puncturing the way these folks rationalize, even romanticize their grotesque, violent behavior in the name of revolution. Folk heroes they are not. The only reputation that doesn't get tarnished is that of Wee Thomas, and that furry little creature ends up being the cause of all those murderous goings-on.
With a body count to match "Hamlet," not to mention a couple of dead cats, Martin McDonagh's very black, very bloody, very funny comedy "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" cawed its way on to the Lyceum Theatre stage last night with all the bizarre grace of a chain saw bent on massacre.
This satire on the IRA and the various murderous splinter groups of its splinter groups is from the playwright who last season gave Broadway "The Pillowman." And though not nearly so deep nor so disturbing as that special nightmare, it has plenty of its own peculiar pleasures.
For "Inishmore" - an off-Broadway transfer from the splendid Atlantic Theatre Company staging with only one major cast change - McDonagh has come up with a concoction that seems one part Sean O'Casey's "The Shadow of a Gunman," another part Joe Orton, and a third that is pure Grand Guignol theater of the bloodiest variety, with a dash of British comic stage Irish.
The London-born McDonagh - of the kind of Irish extraction a dentist might perform without anesthesia - has a marvelously irreverent sense of the ridiculous that can make you cringe with pleasure.
This play is set on the Island of Inishmore, among the Aran Islands, County Galway, in 1993. If things are bad in Northern Ireland, they're even worse on the Island of Inishmore, where Padraic's beloved friend, Wee Thomas, has been run over and killed. And Padraic's father, Donny (Peter Gerety), and Davey (Domhnall Gleeson), a gormless teenager who may (or may not) have run him over on his bicycle, are powerfully concerned.
And well they might be. For Padraic (David Wiimot) - who at that moment is up in Northern Ireland tearing the toenails off a drug pusher - is a psychopathic terrorist, so crazy even the IRA won't have him.
Wee Thomas is his cat. Padraic may have no regard for human life - actually, he hasn't - but if anyone were to touch a hair of Wee Thomas' black fur, he'd be a dead man. Very nastily dead, at that.
So Davey and Donny's concern is understandable. No wonder that, to soften the blow, as they catch Padraic on his cellphone mid-torture, they tell him merely that Wee Thomas is "poorly."
Poorly? That's all Padraic needs to hear before rushing home to take care of what he will soon discover is a dead cat.
Add to this Irish stew young Davey's beautiful but dangerous sister, Mairead (Alison Pill, the only newcomer to the Broadway cast), and a trio of splintered terrorists chasing Padraic, and you have a recipe for wholesale bloodletting.
Flawlessly staged by Wilson Milam, who directed the play on its first staging by England's Royal Shakespeare Company; neatly designed by Scott Pask (setting) and Theresa Squire (costumes), and acted with elegant zest by the entire cast, this murderous merry-go-round effortlessly becomes one of the best shows in town.
Be warned, though: The squeamish may find some of the mayhem hard to take.
The good people of Inishmore cordially invite you to watch them paint the town red — a vivid, sticky red that comes, as the phrase goes, straight from the heart. Gore and guts will be served in generous portions by some of the stupidest characters ever to cross a stage. So please turn off your political correctness monitor along with your cell phone. Because if your stomach is reasonably strong, you should find the disgusting spectacle that opened last night at the Atlantic Theater Company appallingly entertaining. More improbably, you should also find it enlightening.
Blood winds up on pretty much every surface in "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," Martin McDonagh's gleeful, gruesome play about political terrorism in rural Ireland, which won the Olivier Award (the British equivalent of the Tony) for best comedy. The red stuff is splashed, spattered and smeared over walls, floors, furniture, clothes, skin and cat's fur. The fur is the main thing. For it is a mutilated cat that sets off the Euripidean cycle of murderous revenge that occupies two fast hours of hit-and-run traffic on the stage.
Theatergoers familiar with Mr. McDonagh's work (which includes the Tony-nominated "Pillowman" and "Beauty Queen of Leenane") are by now used to the acts of torture, humiliation and interfamilial skull bashing that figure in his work. But with "Lieutenant," directed with a steady gaze and acute theatrical instinct by Wilson Milam, Mr. McDonagh raises the carnage factor to a level that rivals Quentin Tarantino's.
Unlike Mr. Tarantino, Mr. McDonagh isn't trying to elicit the poetry in surreally stylized violence or the aesthetic content in shades of red. There's nothing pretty about the gruesome mess in which these gun- and razor-toting characters, members of splintered splinter groups of the Irish Republican Army, find themselves. And they seem to regard as merely mundane the abominations they commit in the name of causes they can't always remember. But they might as well face it, they're addicted to blood. So, this play suggests with devilish obliqueness, are we.
"The Lieutenant of Inishmore" takes place, like so much of Mr. McDonagh's work, in a drab rustic cottage that seems to have been created with the malicious intention of boring to madness whoever might live there. (Scott Pask, who won a Tony for the more intricate set for "The Pillowman," is the designer.) That's where the play's title character, Padraic (David Wilmot) — described as "him the I.R.A. wouldn't let in because he was too mad" — grew up. It is also where he left behind him, in the care of his father, Donny (Peter Gerety), his beloved cat, Wee Thomas.
What's left of Wee Thomas, who has been all but decapitated by an unknown assailant, is onstage when the play begins. His sorry state inspires more fear than sorrow in Donny and Davey (Domhnall Gleeson), a sulky, shoe-polish-sniffing teenager. Donny and Davey know that once Padraic, who is on the road bungling the bombing of fish-and-chip shops, learns of his pet's demise, they are likely to wind up much like the mutilated cat. "I'll tell him Wee Thomas was poorly," Donny says hopefully.
Every element of plot and tone in "Lieutenant" is established here with Aristotelian precision. However unorthodox his subject, Mr. McDonagh is a structural classicist, one of the few contemporary playwrights (never mind filmmakers) who never leaves loopholes in his plot. Within 10 minutes, we have acquired the necessary knowledge about the play's hero, the world that shaped him and the specific cause of the action to follow. (This play's form is a schoolteacher's delight.) All that's left is for the production to keep stepping on the gas, until it runs into one of those twisted snares of an ending that are Mr. McDonagh's specialty.
Don't expect deep psychological portraiture or specific political insights. Mr. McDonagh's characters don't seem to think much of humankind. And his characters are defined almost exclusively by the restlessness born of boredom or the warped sense of accomplishment that comes from killing. Davey's scrappy 16-year-old sister, Mairead (Kerry Condon), may still feel the romance of republican terrorism. ("The Patriot Game," Dominic Behan's ballad of Irish rebellion, is heard throughout the show.)
But for Padraic and his colleagues and/or rivals (a bumptious band played by Andrew Connolly, Dashiell Eaves and Brian D'Arcy James), killing, bombing and torturing are just jobs, rather like bagging groceries, except you get to be your own boss. Much of the play's choking humor lies in its juxtaposition of grotesque deeds and banal dialogue. "I'm at work at the moment, Dad. Is it important?" says Padraic on his cellphone, having just finished slicing two toenails off a drug pusher (Jeff Binder).
"Lieutenant" is brazenly and unapologetically a farce. But it is also a severely moral play, translating into dizzy absurdism the self-perpetuating spirals of political violence that now occur throughout the world. I kept thinking of Macbeth's forlorn recognition that "blood will have blood." In Inishmore, that maxim has become such a fact of life that people no longer evoke natural human responses in one another — well, irritation, maybe. And the sight of a dismembered bodies does stir the erotic impulses of Padraic and Mairead (embodied with gloriously matter-of-fact savagery by Mr. Wilmot and Ms. Condon). But sentimentality is reserved for animals.
This message is apparent from the first moments of "Lieutenant," and you would think it would grow bald in its reiteration. But that's not factoring in the keen use of the pop clichés of violence from westerns to detective movies. An assortment of expertly staged tableaux summon the old thrills of such movies and then grotesquely invert them, so that your laughter arises partly from shame.
I am pleased to report that "Lieutenant" remains as scalpel-edged as when I saw it in London three years ago. Several of the cast members appeared in the productions there (at the Royal Shakespeare Company and in the West End). But not one of the performers is out of sync here. Each finds, often hilariously, the crucial everyday prosiness in Mr. McDonagh's extreme world.
This doesn't mean there isn't a barbed lyricism in the dialogue, which features some of the sharpest subversion of classic theatrical talk since the heyday of Joe Orton. I could quote one of the deliriously bombastic monologues about making Ireland free for cats. But instead, I'll leave you with a quieter, more domestic speech, when Donny remembers his old mother.
"Many's the time I trampled on my mam when she was alive," he says. "After she died, I stopped. There seemed no sense."
"Terrorist satire" are not words one expects to find together on risk-averse, happy-face Broadway these days. Just two months after Martin McDonagh's rural-Irish splatter tragicomedy opened at the tiny but influential Atlantic Theater Company, however, "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" transfered its gleeful self to the Lyceum Theatre last night in time to be eligible for Tony Awards.
This remains good, smartly stupid fun, an unrepentantly violent, Grand Guignol bloodbath about splinter groups of nationalist splinter groups; a chop-shop of a world in which mutilated cats are mourned while people are just dead meat. Bellowing Irish accents are a bit harder to comprehend in the larger theater and I still think the momentum is hurt by an unnecessary intermission.
Here is much of what I wrote in my March 1 review:
Note to anyone tempted to leave "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" at intermission. Big mistake. This latest import from the incorrigibly dark and impolite mind of Martin McDonagh only pretends to be working too hard in the shallow end of cartoon cruelty. Ideas even bloodier than corpses pile up for goofy and grisly dismemberment in the second act.
"Inishmore" is a lesser work than "The Pillowman," McDonagh's chilling Broadway triumph of last season. But the play - written in the '90s and derailed by the events of 2001 - knowingly accumulates absurdities about fanatical idealism until pieties about freedom are laughing from crying for mercy.
Wilson Milam, who directed the Royal Shakespeare Company production, which won the 2003 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy, has brought two of the original actors along to nail the visceral, shrewd, loony-mouthed poetic style.
David Wilmot, who created the lead role, is almost disturbingly sympathetic as Padraic, considered even "too mad for the IRA." His only friend is his black cat, Wee Thomas, which we first see dead with his brains gushing onto the table at the home of Padraic's comparably brutal but apolitical father (Peter Gerety). (No animals were harmed for our amusement.)
A dim slacker (Domhnall Gleeson) is blamed for Wee Thomas' demise, after which the kid and Padriac's dad try to color an orange replacement with black shoe polish. Three sinister terrorists from a rival splinter group arrive with sweet comic routines and ready revolvers. Meanwhile, Padraic is reminded of patriotic and hormonal dreams by a young female zealot (Alison Pill, replacing Kerry Condon) who shoots cows in the eyes "to damage the meat trade."
These are gangs that can shoot straight. Trouble is, they don't quite remember why they are shooting. The only moral center is the adoration of cats, described as "innocent Irish cats," as in "making Ireland free for cats to roam about without being clanked in the brains with a handgun."
Although a little of this running gag would seem to go far enough, McDonagh defiantly and deftly makes it an organizing principal for all the ridiculous, horrific and sanctimonious distortions of curdled nationalism and humanist ideals.
Every monster has a soft spot. Hitler loved his mom. Stalin was supposedly fond of Shirley Temple, and Padraic, the twisted protagonist of Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore (* * * * out of four), is wild about Wee Thomas.
"Mad Padraic," as he is not-quite-affectionately called, hasn't yet earned international renown as a genocidal tyrant. But on the island of Inishmore, off the coast of Ireland, the young terrorist's sadism is already the stuff of legend. "Isn't it him the IRA wouldn't let in because he was too mad?" one character recalls. (Inishmore was written and is set in the early '90s when that organization inspired even more fear.)
Where Thomas is concerned, though, Padraic is a pussycat. Which is only fitting, because Thomas is a pussycat as well - I mean a real one, with paws and fur and, possibly, nine lives.
I can't elaborate too much without revealing a late, delicious plot twist. And it would be criminal to dampen any of the surprise in this play from McDonagh's Aran Islands trilogy, the smartest, funniest new work to land on Broadway since ... well, since McDonagh's last offering, 2005's The Pillowman.
Though not as deeply or intricately disturbing as Pillowman, Inishmore is a lot gorier. Cat lovers and the generally squeamish should be advised that feline blood - fake, of course - is spilled, though not in nearly as great abundance as fake human blood.
But however extreme the violence and collateral damage in this very, very dark comedy, there's nothing gratuitous about it. The action in Inishmore is, like the dialogue, stunningly taut and efficient. At a time when irony is being given a bad name, in theater and elsewhere, by writers who aren't nearly as clever as they think they are, McDonagh fierce, unpretentious wit is a treasure.
Better still, there's a message in his madness. The deadpan and slapstick brutality in Inishmore reinforces the hopelessness and banality of its lost, raging characters, played by actors whom Wilson Milam directs to brisk perfection.
In addition to David Wilmot, who is horrifying and hilarious as Padraic, they include Alison Pill as a bloodthirsty tomboy with a romantic streak, and Jeff Binder, Andrew Connolly, Dashlell Eaves and Brian d'Arcy James as other hooligans who, foolishly, defy Padraic.
Peter Gerety and Domhnall Gleason are especially entertaining as Padraic's hapless dad (who is charged with caring for Thomas while the cat's adoring master is out torturing and mutilating less fortunate mammals) and an even more dimwitted local boy.
I never imagined that something as ferocious and fresh as Inishmore, first performed abroad at the Royal Shakespeare Company, would pass muster with risk-averse Broadway producers. But then I had suffered similar doubts about Pillowman.
While McDonagh has expressed a desire to focus more on film, stage fans should hope he has a few more surprises in store for us as well.