San Diego, CA—ion theatre company, now in it’s fifth season, has established itself as pretty avant-garde. So it’s no surprise that Martin McDonagh’s “The Lieutenant Of Inishmore” would be on their wish list of plays to produce. He’s also the playwright who wrote “The Beauty Queen Of Leenae” (it was a Tony nominee for Best Play in 1999 and the San Diego Repertory mounted a splendid production of it years ago) and “The Pillowman” which was also a Tony nominee for Best Play in 2005 and ion mounted a few years ago.
“The Lieutenant Of Inishmore” is a comedy (it was an Oliver award winner for Best Comedy in 2003) but you have to look deep and hard (if you are not so inclined to Irish humor or you’re a cat lover) to find it, which most on opening night did.
It’s dark, borders on Black and is more absurd than funny and can make the heartiest of stomachs do summersaults; it’s that bloody. And it all centers around a cat named Wee Thomas that was killed with a shot to the head mutilated and left on the roadside where poor Davey out riding his bike, (Ryan Kidd) picked him up and brought him home.
Wee Thomas wasn’t just any cat though. He belonged to Padraic (Kyle Sorrow) a wee bit off on this side of a full head of brains who takes fighting for the I.R. A. (or his own splinter group the I.N.L.A of said organization) to the nth degree. Wee Thomas was the only thing Paddy loved so when he went off to fight for whatever cause he found fit, he left the cat in his father Donny’s (Walter Ritter) care.
After Davey and Donny come up with a scheme to down play the death of Wee Thomas, Donny calls Padraic. Both knew that if Pad thought the cat was dead on their watch their heads would literally be in the eye of a gun barrel. When Donny gets Padraic on the phone, Padraic is in the middle of torturing James (Evan Kendig) another I.R.A. member, who is selling drugs to school kids. Padraic has his limits. Selling drugs is bad cutting his enemies into pieces (that happens later on in the play) is O.K.
When we first meet James we find him hanging by his feet in an abandoned warehouse in Northern Ireland being tortured by Padraic. We learn that two-toe nails have already been cut off as part of his torture (both on the same foot so James only has to limp on one side) and just as Pad is about to cut James’ nipples off, he is saved by the phone call. When Padraic learns that James is also a cat lover he cuts him down, lets him roll around in pain and runs off to tend to (what he thinks is) his ailing cat.
When Padraic returns home to Inishmore (hence the self proclaimed Lieutenant of) all hell breaks lose. Things go from ludicrous to the absurdly ludicrous as we meet more of McDonagh’s characters like Mairead (Morgan Trent is a sassy tomboy, contriving and convincing) who is Davey’s sister and wannabe IRA fighter. She takes target practice shooting out the eyes of the cows (with an air rifle) grazing in the pasture and ‘not at close range either’. She also has the hots for Padraic. Strange bedfellows these warriors make.
And then there is the merry band of wayward IRA members who are, in fact, the ones who shoot and mutilate cats just for the hell of it. They include Joey (Josh Adams), Christy (Mike Jensen), and Brendan (Reed Willard). Padraic and the ‘boys’ do not see eye to eye with one another so each sets off on his own course of destruction, mayhem and waste.
Claudio Raygoza, directs with an eye to perfection as he whittles out more and more from each character creating in him all the brutality, ugliness and stupidity this play needs to make it work, at least for some. It hits home so that by the time it’s bloody over, everyone in the cast is exhausted and is completely covered in blood (even some in the audience sitting in the first two or three rows). I have to admit, I am not the blood and gore type and much of what went on on the stage made me feel sick.
I know, I know the message is loud and clear: what goes on in wartime creates shocking brutalities (in the wrong hands and that is usually the case) that might otherwise never enter the gray matter of sane people (or we’d like to think). I also know that shock value is another way to make a point. I get it all, even the blood and lust that drives these men. But I couldn’t bring myself to join in the laughter others saw in the irony of it all.
That said the ensemble is on solid ground. Some are pretty new to our local stages and all perform admirably. Ritter, one of ion’s member actors is at the top of his game. There is a gleeful twinkle in his eyes and voice as he meanders (mostly with bottle in hand) through the cover up of Wee Thomas’ demise so as not to anger his son. Kyle Sorrell is another to watch. Intense, straightforward and amazingly on target, he sent chills up my spine.
Karin Filijan’s lighting design is right on and Raygoza and Matt Scott’s set design, of a run down wooden cottage with the bare necessities set the stage for the violence that followed. Even the moveable stage kept closed off (at first) by a shower curtain has its irony. Mary Larson’s costumes and Melanie Chen’s sound design just add another layer to the over all look and feel.
And for full disclosure, cats that have owned me.
Gilda Radner. She was dubbed the neighborhood slut because every time she came home, she was pregnant.
Ms. Katz who, after careful consideration, turned out to be Mr. Katz.
Tiger. He played with my grandsons and took lots of abuse but never hurt them or they him.
Cocoa. He was one fine gentleman who knew his place and that was the whole house!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through April 9th
Organization: ion theatre company
Production Type: Farce
Where: 3704 Sixth Avenue, 92103, Hillcrest
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$29.00