THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMOREby Martin McDonagh
Directed by Terry Martin
Christoper Pickart - Set Designer
Michael A. Robinson - Costume Designer
Leann Ellis - Lighting Designer
Scott Guenther - Sound Designer
Georgana Jinks - Props Designer
Steve Tolin - Special Effects
Kayla Carlyle - Mairead
Tony Daussat - Davey
Ian Ferguson - Brendan
Evan Fuller - Joey
Jason C. Kane - Donny
Matt Moore - Padraic
Matt Tolbert - James
Clay Yocum - Christy
Reviewed Performance: 1/14/2011
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Not a sociologist nor psychologist, I cannot nor want to delve into the realms of why mankind has such relish for violence and terror. I do know that many cultures, having lived and died through hundreds of years of oppression, end up with a kind of dark humor others may find inappropriate and disgusting. Playwright and screenwriter Martin McDonagh has made a life's work writing the darkest of comedies. Most all are set in Ireland and Northern Ireland and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Watertower Theatre's newest production, is one such play. It takes place during the last years of "The Troubles", the violent, over thirty year Northern Ireland conflict between its own countrymen. The Irish Republic Army (IRA) has broken down into several splinter groups, one being the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).
One radical, Padraic, was a particularly bad member who preferred to go on a one man bombing and torture spree. While gone, he left his only friend, a black cat called Wee Thomas, with his da (father) for safe keeping. The cat met a sorry end, Padraic was lied as to his condition, and that was where the absurdity began. A man of such violence who thought nothing of pulling out another man's toenails then showed such concern, love and sadness over a small animal. Hilarious slapstick antics abound in the attempt to keep the cat's demise a secret, love was found between shootings and I actually found myself chuckling and laughing between the cringes. A startling ending left me gobsmacked, amused yet saddened at the unnecessary destruction.
I have abhorrence to guns or weapons of any kind so asked to be seated at the back of the audience. From my perch, I wasn't bombarded by the "carnage" so was better able to find the morbid comedy in each character's personality, actions and words. Director Terry Martin cast a solid group of actors that personified these characters so well I temporarily forgot he directed them to those performances. That is a true gift.
Matt Tolbert had the honors of playing poor James, the drug dealer, in a most precarious position, and lent laughter and a taste of the violence to come in his short but important role. Mairead was a teenager with misplaced rebellion and, played by Kayla Carlyle, had an unrealistic crush on both Padraic and the fame and glory of being one of the boys. As such, Carlyle held her own admirably though I wanted there to be more distinction between her feminine nature and the male warrior she wished to be.
Renegade soldier of the INLA, Padraic was the most complex of the characters in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Hailed as that same lieutenant, his aloof, working day violence gave way to heart- felt concern and love, to raging maniacal anger, then to blinding, exacting revenge with a snap of a finger. Matt Moore deftly blended all these extremes yet kept each emotion distinct which allowed the dark, dark comedy to emerge and brought out all the questions and "whys" of his life.
Resembling the Three Stooges of Terror, Ian Ferguson, Evan Fuller and Clay Yocum played Brendan, Joey and Christy with squeamish humor. Bumbling plans to enact vengeance on Padraic, all three displayed the ability to turn on and off between comedy and pathos like a light switch.
The morbid, grotesque, horrifying slapstick comedy award for this season must certainly go to both Tony Daussat as Davey and Jason C. Kane as Donny, the two caught between one dead kitty and one insane pet owner. Like a Laurel and Hardy plan gone terribly wrong, these two masters of sad sack humor handled the extreme physicality of their roles with ease though it looked anything but that. I had to close my eyes a few times but kept listening for that low lying humor to surface and it did again and again.
Whenever you have violent conflict, resistance and war, you have blood and gore and bodies and there was plenty of all these in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Watertower Theatre brought in Special Effects Artist and Designer, Steve Tolin, to enhance the play with the above mentioned items. In my perch on the back row, the effects, save for the blood, were unimpressive. I was expecting highly realistic gore but bodies were obvious mannequins, bone and sinew was reduced to metal rods, and both humans and animals were incorrectly limp or rigid, depending on the time of death. Having dealt with way too much film and stage blood, theirs was spot on but the rest of the effects left even me wanting something more.
Costume Designer Michael A. Robinson correctly dressed his actors in everyday casual. Georgana Jinks, as Props Designer, had a lot of guns to deal with and whoever sets them every night (no crew credits!) made sure each worked perfectly same with the blood packs.
I loved the heightened set as designed by Christopher Pickart. The industrially stark, abandoned warehouse outer set enveloped the actors in grey metallic coldness. Coming from behind the huge rising garage door/wall was the contrasting warm yellow tones of Donny's cluttered kitchen and sitting room. The sound of the door/wall rising and lowing was eerie. (In that light, the chain moving Donny's kitchen came off the track midway through Act I. Director Terry Martin smoothly left his upper seat, came onstage, let us in on the problem and announced an early intermission. The audience became energized in the "live theatre experience" and the play continued straight through which I actually much preferred. Well done.)
Scott Guenther's sound design using metallic percussion, heavy rock and contemporary and traditional Celtic/Irish songs raised and supported the tension level of the play. Leann Ellis wisely chose lots of gobos in her lighting design for shadowy effects and stark blue filters for additional coldness.
Still I wondered why Watertower Theatre chose and campaigned for this play to be produced. Why would they expect subscribers and others to leave their warm, safe homes to witness such violence and brutality? And why would McDonagh continue to write works of this genre over and over? I am not a voyeur, I don't rubber neck at car accidents, I don't watch horror films and I don't cheer on our country's war games. Then, on the way home, it hit me. You take a dark comedy of a silly situation and layer it with violence so extreme that it all becomes nonsensical; it no longer makes sense and so becomes somehow funny. We would turn away from terrorism on its own but dealt out with humor brings on the message so much more powerfully.
Watertower Theatre's mission statement speaks of "open(ing) minds. . ." and The Lieutenant of Inishmore most assuredly opens minds. While I struggle with the cruelty of man to fellow man, to ignore or pretend it doesn't exist would be even crueler. I suppose we have to laugh at evil before we can conquer it. You will find yourself laughing during this play, in spite of yourself.
Watertower Theatre also stated "our ultimate vision is to be good for something". They achieved that vision by being the caller outs of terrorism and, by that, are indeed doing something good.
(Please note: This production contains content and graphic theatrical violence and strong adult language. Not recommended for anyone under age 18.)
Runs through February 6th
15650 Addison Road
Addison, TX 75001
Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm and one Saturday matinee on February 5th at 2:00 pm.
Tickets are $22 - $44. Please call the box office for information or tickets at 972-450-6232 or go to watertowertheatre.org.