The Lieutenant of Inishmore
By Martin McDonagh
Directed by Les Waters
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
April 22-May 17
According to the program notes, it takes a team of six people (more on matinee days) to clean up the buckets of stage blood (an estimated 12 gallons) spilled in each performance of Martin McDonagh’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” Working together, they achieve a pretty quick turnaround. It may take a little longer to get the images of gore out of your own head. Move over “Sweeney Todd,” you’ve met your match!
“The Lieutenant,” one of the Irish playwright’s furious output of seven stage scripts in as many years before he turned to film (“Six Shooter” and “In Bruges”), took five years to make it from page to stage. While the Irish peace process was still shaky, it was considered too raw for public consumption. In 2001 the Royal Shakespeare Company finally gave it a go and it’s been going ever since, creating a small cottage industry for folks who manage the astonishing special effects (here, Tolin FX).
It is a comedy, despite all the blood (or sometimes because of it), that darkly resonates in the light of current events. Torture, senseless murder and betrayal run rampant, all in the name of peace and harmony. It’s fun – but not always easy – to watch and, in the end, is summed up in one incredulous character’s line: “So, all this terror has been for absolutely nothing?” Yup, that’s the point folks. With less finesse than “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” less beauty and feeling than “Pillowman” and even more insanity than “In Bruges,” “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” has only one message. But it’s a potent one.
Sure and the Irish are a peculiar lot, as McDonagh never tires of showing us. They love their mothers and their pets and little children. They never tire of drink or poetry or song. They hate the English and, frequently, each other. The brouhaha here stems from the killing of a cat, Wee Thomas, the beloved pet of the title character and the only friend he ever has had. There must be revenge, of course, and, before it is all over, more feline and much human blood will be shed. It’s not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach (the lady next to me went home after ten minutes) but it is awfully funny and remember that the blood is a mix of corn syrup, laundry detergent and food coloring. (Sure looks like blood though).
Berkeley Rep Associate Artistic Director Les Waters has assembled a crackerjack cast to tell this zany tale, headed by the usually-dignified James Carpenter as a doddering Aran Isles sot, Blake Ellis as Padraic, his charismatic psychopath of a son, the lieutenant of the title – a terrorist with a splinter branch of the IRA – and young Adam Farabee as a Good Samaritan neighbor whose innocent action begins a process that soon spins into mayhem and in whose voice the only sparks of sanity can be heard. They are wonderfully supported by Daniel Krueger, as a bemused torture victim; Danny Wolohan, Rowan Brooks and Michael Barrett Austin, as a trio of thugs out to get the lieutenant, and Molly Camp as a teenaged sharpshooter, in love with Padraic and addicted to shooting the eyes out of cows. They all have a marvelous time and you will too if, like this reviewer, you are really into Martin McDonagh. If not, stick around anyway; he may grow on you. And one last word of advice: don’t eat a big dinner beforehand.