Most people either identify as "dog people" or "cat people." For Padraic Osbourne, saying he’s a cat person might be understating it a bit.
In Martin McDonagh’s unsettlingly hilarious dark comedy, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, presented by Water Tower Theatre, the love between an Irish Liberation terrorist and his cat is affectionately and ruthlessly examined as Padraic embarks on a bloody rampage to find the murderer of his beloved cat, Wee Thomas.
Advancing McDonagh’s rapidly ascending reputation as a brilliant playwright, WaterTower goes all out for Inishmore, securing the services of noted special effects artist Steve Tolin to help recreate the the bloody glee of Padraic’s madness, and featuring an innovative set design by Christopher Pickart.
However, McDonagh’s darkly comic material is notoriously difficult to perform. In this instance, Terry Martin’s cast struggles to live up to the quality of the script, yet ultimately still delivers a solidly entertaining and appropriately unnerving performance.
It all begins innocently enough as Davey (Tony Daussat) has found the aforementioned Wee Thomas lying dead on the side of the road, the victim of a savage beating. Being the Good Samaritan, Davey brings the cat to its caretaker, Donny (Jason C. Kane).
Panic ensues when Donny informs Davey that the cat is not his, but his son Padraic’s, for Padraic (Matt Moore) is known to be a particularly violent Irish terrorist and will certainly make someone pay for the death of his "only friend."
They decide to let Padraic down easy by telling him Wee Thomas has simply quit eating, and then planning to escalate the reports until the cat finally succumbs to some unnamed disease.
Shift to Padraic, and one of the most humorous and tone setting scenes of the show, as he interrogates a local drug pusher. Enraged at the news his cat has fallen ill, he immediately sets out for home and effectively ruins Davey’s and Donny’s plot.
The two make a feeble attempt at replacing Wee Thomas only to be caught in the act by Padraic. From then on, a murderously hilarious whodunit unfolds. Fingers―and guns―are pointed, people are killed, and Padraic finds painfully tenuous romance with Davey’s sister Mairead (Kayla Carlyle). It all culminates in a tragic climax that would make Shakespeare proud.
Only 40 years old, McDonagh has quickly established himself as one of the most talented playwrights working today, and has particularly set himself apart as a master of dark comedy.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore is specifically noted for its Monty Python-style farce. A designation that almost always proves a difficult interpretation for actors, for the realm of satire and dark comedy can be misleading when viewed as words on a page. It reads dramatic. And the actions being performed by the actors, including grisly murders and such, are generally considered dramatic in nature. So, it falls on the actors to deliver the material in a humorous manner and draw laughs out of decidedly serious situations. Add in the fact that McDonagh is exceptionally adept at the genre, and the bar is raised even higher. It’s not easy.
To their credit, the cast performs admirably. Though the Irish accents are at times inconsistent, the occasional laugh line is dropped and there are some questionable emphases on funny lines, the cast is able to draw enough laughs from the audience to save them from an otherwise horrific storyline.
Kane and Moore as the dysfunctional father and son are the most on key performers in the ensemble. Kane strikes an acrobatic balance between the simpleton patriarch and the repressed ruffian who fathered the volatile Patrick. Likewise, Moore attacks Padraic’s hair trigger madness with unabashed glee, always finding the humor in human suffering. Particularly, Moore is able to keep Padraic’s obvious distraught state over the death of Wee Thomas from becoming depressing. His rage always resides in the ridiculous, which is exactly what’s called for in this instance.
Daussat struggles somewhat with the character of Davey. Faced with the challenge of playing a homosexual hippy in McDonagh’s world, Daussat too often over-emotes while searching for the right arc for his character. It’s an admirable effort but ultimately falls short of the role’s potential. He needs to tone it down a little.
The rest of the cast is unspectacular, but solid. As mentioned, the accents are often inconsistent, and the Monty Python-influences go unrealized at times, but overall they inhabit the roles effectively and move the plot forward without giving in to the otherwise foreboding subject matter.
Director Terry Martin knew what he was getting into with this production, and the end result is a pleasingly disturbing performance that flexes WaterTower’s considerable creative muscles. Pickart’s set design is inventive and flows seamlessly between settings, save for one opening night malfunction. Tolin’s special effects are well executed and shocking in their authenticity. And Martin gets one of the better dark comic performances witnessed in this area recently from the cast.
Martin McDonagh is a name theatergoers will hear more and more of in the coming years, and WaterTower has provided an excellent baseline by which to compare subsequent performances of his burgeoning oeuvre.
Inishmore is a play about love. An unordinary, and even extraordinary, take on the subject. But love, nonetheless.
And so, given that insight, this story is perhaps the perfect introduction for McDonagh to local arts patrons as they hopefully develop the kind of unwavering, marauding love for the Irishman’s work that Padraic feels for Wee Thomas.
Love with a vengeance.