The play opens on a comfortable, bright living-room setting, where two men of different generations have a conversation about some rather shabby treatment of a beloved household pet. Quaint, no?
The next scene is a man full on torturing another man. Toe nails pulled, lots of blood and tears spilled. They also discuss cats.
As the body count rises in this (very, very) dark comedy, you begin to realize: the cat really is the pivotal part of this very clever script.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore (by Martin McDonagh) is about an IRA splinter group (or maybe a splinter-splinter group). Mostly of one member: the highly erratic, if not downright psychopathic, Lt. Padraic (played very strongly by Steven Peters) and his return to his hometown after receiving some fairly dire news of his beloved best friend, his cat Wee Thomas. In a full-on massacre, Padraic will find out what happened to his cat with the help of some hilarious residents of the island of Inishmore.
While the plot is surprisingly complex for a story based on the question “Who knocked ‘Mad Padraic’s’ cat over on a lonely road on the island of Inishmore and was it an accident?”, it takes a backseat to the characters and relationships developed throughout the play.
One is between Padraic and the smitten Mairead (Jenna Lahey). Lahey’s Mairead comes across as a very deep character: she’s in love, she’s passionate about her cause (Ireland Free!), and of course she’s a little bit crazy herself. Their relationship seems to be based almost entirely on spite, but Lahey and Peters somehow make it come across as sweet.
Another is shared by the local goons and compatriots of Padraic: Christy (Sam White), Joey (Clayton D’Orsay), and Brendan (John-Paul Bergeron). Though they are truly ruthless militant thugs, they are also somewhat incompetent. The bickering conversations that they have (having to do neither with their master plan nor cats… well, a bit about cats actually) are over-the-top in a great way. They argue the merits of properly cited quotations exactly the way you would expect a group of vicious murderers to do.
The stand-out relationship for me, however, is between Davey (played by Danny MacNeil) and Donny (played Duane Nardocchio in a great debut performance). These two somehow manage to steal the show without actually stealing the show. They become a focal point that you just want to keep listening to no matter what else is happening on stage. You just want them to keep giving their opinions on what is happening (which they do) and try and figure out some way to get out of it (which they try). The fact that they are in the middle of everything, yet somehow completely removed from the world around them (at least in their own thoughts and discussions) is done hilariously well. I heard someone describe the pair as a “white-trash Statler and Waldorf” (of The Muppets), but really they are the heart of the whole play, as misguided and inebriated as that heart may be.
The subject matter for this play is incredibly dark. With central themes like revenge and murder would be enough, but put those over the backdrop of the struggles of the Irish National Liberation Army, and you have the potential for a very depressing play. This is not the case. The play is almost lighthearted; it looks at a situation that if the average person were to find themselves in, would be pretty funny. The fact that it is bomb-toting hotheads and terrorists in the situation somehow makes it very, very funny.
The language in the play is… colourful. Very colourful. Almost every second word uttered would definitely not make it past the censors. There are also a lot of guns. Almost as many guns as there are swear words. And blood. Lots and lots of blood. Also lots of fun. Despite all the darkness, and violence, and disturbed characters, and cat-throwing, the play is genuinely fun. Director Kristen Gregor (along with her cast) deserves a great deal of credit for pulling off a great comedy with such dark tones.
The evening I saw also included a performance from local band Rad and Subtract, and each night for the remainder of the play’s run will have different local musical acts following the show: Analog Signal (Tuesday), Black Tooth Grin (Wednesday), and Static In Action (Thursday). The sound in the Highland Arts Theatre is amazing, so you get two great shows for the price of one!
The Lieutenant of Inishmore continues on Tuesday, October 21 and runs until Thursday, October 23. It starts at 9:00 PM each night with tickets available online at highlandartstheatre.com or at the door. The show is 19+ only.