“Lieutenant of Inishmore” a bloody good staging

The "highly stylized" stage reading, done at Tenth Street Theatre by The World's Stage Theatre Company, is the first in a three-play McDonagh cycle this month.

By - Jan 21st, 2013 01:13 pm

The Lieutenant of Inishmore starts with a dead cat and ends with a live one. In between, there’s blood, gunfire, toenail-pulling, corpse-chopping, and sadistic haircuts. Obviously, it’s a comedy.

Lieutenant, aptly described as “Monty Python meets Quentin Tarantino,” is the grisly first offering in The World’s Stage Theatre Company’s three-part cycle of plays by celebrated British-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, staged at In Tandem’s Tenth Street Theatre.

World’s Stage is an up-and-comer in the current scene of fine young Milwaukee theater companies, and they’ve marshaled some impressive resources for this production. Under the skillful direction of In Tandem’s Chris Flieller, this “highly stylized” staged reading (the other two shows will be fully staged) is completely engaging, with costumes, stage combat, and special effects—including a spectacular exploding cat— that bring the kinetic play to life far more than the lectern-bound format the term “staged reading” often calls to mind. Though sometimes bogged down by their scripts, the actors give us rich comic characterizations in understandable, generally credible accents, only occasionally straying close to “Lucky Charms” territory.

Set in Galway just as the Irish “Troubles” were just beginning to subside into peace, the 2001 satire focuses on a cadre of  “freedom fighters,” along with their assorted victims and relations, to illustrate the stupidity of violence. McDonagh’s plot keeps turning back on itself like Celtic knotwork, and things casually mentioned early on come back later with a vengeance. The play’s terrorist goons, though ludicrously dim, are nonetheless recognizable human beings whose moral compasses, as Flieller notes, are madly “spinning at the North Pole.” In between over-the-top acts of brutality, they have amusingly rambling conversations, bickering over trivia as obsessively as any of John Cleese’s idiot savants.

As the pathological protagonist Padraic, “too mad for the IRA,” Jason Waszak brings out his best crazy eyes, dominating the stage with a big physical presence. Bryce Lord has his comic delivery honed to a fine edge as Padraic’s scurrilous dad, while James Boland forms the heart of the play as a misfit kid falsely accused of running over Padraic’s beloved cat “Wee Thomas” with his mom’s bike.  Mark Puchinsky is both menacing and magnetic as Padraic’s former colleague-in-arms, and Gretchen Mahkorn (also artistic director of World’s Stage) cuts a striking figure as Mairead, a wannabe revolutionary with a crush on Padraic, and a history of shooting the eyes out of cows as an act of rebellion against the meat industry.

In these wake of Zero Dark Thirty‘s torture controversy and all-too-real mass shootings by people as psychotic as the fictional Padraic, it’s hard to full-out guffaw at this very dark comedy. Maybe McDonagh is taking his cue from the ancient Irish bards, whose satires ridiculed and neutered heinous wrongdoers not just in their lives, but for all time. Whatever the case, World’s Stage has given us a full-bodied realization of this world-class play, successfully whetting our appetite for the rest of the series.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore will be performed once more at Tenth Street Theatre, on Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12, $10 for students. The other two plays in World’s Stage’s McDonagh cycle, The Pillowman and A Behanding in Spokane, will be performed at The Underground Collaborative and Milwaukee Fortress, respectively, and tickets for both are $15, $12 for students. For more information, check out Matthew Reddin’s preview of the full cycle or visit World’s Stage’s promotional Facebook page.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Theater

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