Matthew Reddin

World’s Stage brings Martin McDonagh in rep

"The Lieutenant of Inishmore," "The Pillowman" and "A Behanding in Spokane" will be performed across Milwaukee.

By - Jan 16th, 2013 01:54 pm

Martin McDonagh is no household name in Milwaukee. If you do recognize the name, it’s likely for his screenwriting credits: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. What you’re less likely to know is that he’s most successful in the realm of theater – and arguably one of the more important and successful Irish playwrights living today.

That’s the Martin McDonagh sought by The World’s Stage Theater Company, which will produce a three-play cycle of his works over the next three weekends. The first, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, premieres Friday, while the other two, The Pillowman and A Behanding in Spokane, open Friday and Saturday next week.

World’s Stage artistic director Gretchen Mahkorn says the company was originally focused merely on the middle play in that cycle, The Pillowman, intending to produce it at Tenth Street Theater in January 2012 (they staged Craig Wright’s The Unseen instead). She and other company members began reading other McDonagh plays, and realized they couldn’t bring just one of his plays to Milwaukee. “We started reading some of his other works and really fell in love with the visceral image of the playwright and the witty, fun, dark comedy of it all,” Mahkorn said.

And so they set to work, spreading the McDonagh across three plays, three casts, three theaters, four directors (just to mix things up) and one tech crew tasked with making all three work just right. It’s an ambitious move, especially since World’s Stage has only been around since 2009, but Mahkorn and her directors (Chris Flieller, Paul Matthew Madden, Mara McGhee and Robbie McGhee) emote an infectious confidence.

It’s deserved; the production is squarely in World’s Stage’s strike zone. The company’s mission statement orients them towards a spectrum of works that “inspire, entertain and delightfully shock audiences,” with an emphasis on bringing a broad, diverse selection of works to Milwaukeeans.

Seeing all three plays is not “required reading” for consecutive shows in the cycle – although Mahkorn and the directors hope you do see all three, and set up the performances on purpose to avoid overlaps – but even seeing just one will give you a good insight into World Stage’s aesthetic.

Mahkorn and Mara McGhee, also on the board, are tight-lipped about future plans, but McGhee does allow a pithy summation of their season to come: “We’re trying to collaborate with different groups in different areas in different ways. And that’s about as specific as I can be without giving things away.”

The Lieutenant of Inishmore (a stylized stage reading)

Tenth Street Theatre; Jan. 19 and 31 (7:30); tickets $12, $10 students

Director: Chris Flieller

Cast: Jason Waszak, James Boland, Bryce Lord, Gretchen Mahkorn, Mark Puchinsky, David Rothrock, Chris B. Goode, Thom Cauley

Summary: “A member of a splinter Irish terrorist group returns to his home to attend to his ailing cat.” – Flieller

Director’s Comments: “I signed on to the project without having ever read the show. … (After reading it) I was really drawn to the piece and interested by the challenge of doing it as a reading per se. There’s so much action in the play, but I think that through the rehearsal process, we’re making some interesting choices about how to get past people’s scripts being in their hands and on the tables and on the stage while all this mayhem is going on around them.”

Selling Point: “The play, for me, has a moral compass that’s set at the North Pole. It’s that twisted morality that germinates in a repressed society, and the play really examines that in a very darkly humorous offbeat fashion. (Also) A lot of blood.”

The Pillowman

The Underground Collaborative; Jan. 25 (7:30), Jan. 27 (6:30), Feb. 2 (7:30); tickets $15, $12 students

Director: Paul Matthew Madden

Cast: David Bohn, Joe Foti IV, David Franz, Audwin Short

Summary: “The Pillowman is about a short-story writer who is arrested because there have been a string of murders that very closely resemble his stories.” – Madden

Director’s Comments: “I think it speaks in a large part about legacy, how we’ve lived our lives on this planet, how our experiences have molded us, how we are products of our environment, and what we choose to leave behind – or, in some cases, what we must leave behind.”

Selling Point: “Mine is the least bloody of the three. So if there’s any squeamish stomachs, come see my play.”

A Behanding in Spokane

Milwaukee Fortress, Jan. 26 and Feb. 1 (7:30), Feb. 3 (6:30); tickets $15, $12 students

Directors: Mara McGhee and Robbie McGhee

Cast: Zach Mclain, Martin McMahon Bergquist, Liz Faraglia, Aaron Phifer

Summary: Behanding is a story of a man who lost his hand, 27 years ago, and he’s spent the last 27 years in search of his hand. A young couple comes in with a hand, which is not his, which they try to sell to him, even though it’s a black man’s hand and they’re trying to sell it to a white man. Comedy ensues.” – Robbie

Directors’ Comments: “It’s a situational comedy that no one has been in before. We’re treating it as realistic as possible because the story is completely absurd. It’s a comedy of how people react to situations over which they have little to no control.” – Robbie

Selling Point: “We have over 30 hands made of gelatin and latex that we are going to be throwing across the stage.” – Robbie “Sit in the front row, like Gallagher shows.” – Mara

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