Directed by BJ Jones
Nightlight’s bloody production touts value of dead cats over live humans
Chicago has not seen such a blood-soaked stage since the 2004 Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of Rose Rage – a compendium of Shakespeare’s Henry plays. That drama offered at least rational – if not commendable – motivation for the slaughter, as various factions vied for the British throne. With the Lieutenant of Inishmore, however, motivation is either non-existent or outrageous and absurd. Everything springs from the death of a cat. The result is not limited to “an-eye-for-an eye” retribution but goes far beyond this: not merely, “If you kill my cat, I will kill yours,” but “If you kill my cat, I will kill you!”
The result is a dark, barbaric “comedy” intended neither for the weak hearted nor the weak stomached. According to the playbill, “It took years to get it produced because commercial producers and even not-for-profit theatres were afraid to take the risk.” Oh, if only Northlight had been so guarded!
The Lieutenant of Inishmore has little to recommend it. That is not to say that it doesn’t have funny moments. It does. That is not to say that it is not well acted. It is. In fact, in addition to the fine cast, kudos must go to playwright Martin McDonagh for his excellent plot structure. The story flows clearly and skillfully from one extreme moment to the next. But the sheer weight of the numerous, violent murders is overwhelming.
In a drab house somewhere in the Irish countryside, Wee Thomas, a beloved pet cat, has been killed. The cat had been left in the care of Dad (Matt DeCaro), when his son Padraic (Cliff Chamberlain) went off to join an IRA splinter group. When Padraic is notified of the loss of his pet, he is busily torturing a captured drug dealer (Keith Gallagher). The latter is hanging by his heels. Blood streams from various orifices, including his foot where two toenails have been yanked out, (kindly on the same foot so he won’t have to limp on both), and he will soon lose one (or possible both) of his nipples. And this is only an introduction to the cruelties that follow. The phone call about the cat interrupts the torture. Padraic takes off for home, while his father and Davey (Jamie Abelson), the young man who found the dead cat, wait in justifiable fear of his arrival.
It is all downhill from here: very gory – beyond all rhyme and reason. Military buddies (played by John Judd, Andy Luther, and Gallagher) arrive, with their own brutal agenda. Even the love interest (Kelly O’Sullivan) totes a gun and gets in her own, well-aimed shots. Brutality is handled with calm detachment, death reduced to a comic relief.
This is not a play I would ever wish to see again, or recommend to friends or family. However, to be fair, I will recommend it to lovers of Monty Python’s offbeat humor, lovers of extreme exaggeration, lovers of blood, gore and mayhem, and those with a sadistic bent. It may also appeal to McDonagh’s followers as it marks his third play in this setting, and he is a skilled craftsman. It may offer a redeeming, even moral, lesson for theatergoers who seek and enjoy political interpretations. Actions do mirror the horrors of the contemporary world: terrorism, extraneous brutality, torture. No one can deny that outrageous abominations exist, and this play just takes them one step further, reducing them to absurdity while slaying any possibility of humanity. Only a pet cat can offer, or give, affection. Even a dead cat can offer more than can uncaring, detached humans — a sad, bitter commentary.
The one-dimensional characters include not only two insane families but also political fanatics, reflective of the splinter groups formed and reformed in the Irish struggle against Great Britain. Hatreds are rife, but rather than facing an enemy, partisans turn upon each other. Throughout, actions go beyond the pale, including not only savage murders but dismemberment. One problem with the Northlight production is the thickness of the Irish accents, making some of the speeches difficult to understand – but that may be a positive quality as it really didn’t matter all that much what they say in the midst of all the blood and gore. Nothing they say could justify the action.
Limited Recommendation for a select audience. X-rated, not for children!
Northlight Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, Il. 847-673-6300. Tickets are $25-$55 .Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 and 7 p.m., running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through June 7.