Directed by Derek Bertelsen
Produced by AstonRep Theatre Company
Strong Play if You Can Understand It
The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a 2001 gore-comedy which ridicules terrorism. The show, which mostly takes place on the tiny Irish island of Inishmore, is a fast-paced, high-energy farce. Unfortunately, the Irish accents are a severe pitfall for this cast. I was told this presented less of a problem at previews than at press night, and hope it gets resolved early in the run.
The show takes place in the early nineties, in one of the bloodiest times of The Troubles. Davey (Matthew Harris), a simple-minded boy, has just found a black cat lying in the road with half its head missing. He takes it to Donny (Scott Olson), a curmudgeon and the cat’s caretaker. The situation is dire. That cat belonged to Donny’s son, Padraic (John Wehrman), a sadistic insurgent recently associated with the Irish National Liberation Army. It was the only living creature he ever cared for, and when he learns it’s dead, he’ll want revenge on the island.
When Donny calls with bad news, Padraic is torturing a weed dealer (Scott Wolf). Padraic’s quite the teetotaler, and has recently broken with the INLA because he kept killing drug dealers the cell members depended on for weapons shipments and money laundering. Upon hearing his cat is doing “poorly” he immediately returns to Inishmore, where he encounters Davey’s sister, Mairead (Nora Lise Ulrey). She has a huge crush on him and is just as militant, though her main accomplishment thus far is shooting out the eyes of all the cows on the island. Donny and Davey have meanwhile come up with a plan to paint Mairead’s cat black, and pass it off as Padraic’s. Unbeknownst to them, the killing of Padraic’s cat was orchestrated by the INLA, who are now hiding in wait on the island. Very bloody antics ensue.
Rather than try to create a set that can encompass all the play’s locations, designer Jeremiah Barr has painted “Inishmore” in massive red letters on the back wall, along with an Irish tricolor in the shape of the island. There is a shrine to Michael Collins (Padraic and Donny must really be at odds), a couple of bright green doors, a stone floor pattern, and crumbling plaster that could be taken as the interior of Donny’s house. Most of the playing space has to be left clear for fight scenes. This production isn’t quite as gruesome as Lieutenant can be, but still has lots of blood spurts and severed body parts.
The cast keeps up the show’s manic energy. Harris and Olson work well as a comedic duo, the lone sympathetic characters on an island full of terrorists. Wehrman’s Padraic, though deranged, feels like a natural part of this stylized world, rather than a caricature. It’s a pity Scott Wolf only appears once, since he enunciates the clearest. The scene with him hanging upside down while Padraic tortures him is the strongest in the show, and the only time the violence elicits winces from the audience instead of guffaws. I wonder how different in tone the rest of the play would be if the other victims were comprehensible.
I don’t like to harp on just one thing, but if I hadn’t already read the play, I would have had a very hard time following this production. You can do an authentic accent and speak slowly, or hint at one and go your normal pace, but doing it thick and fast compromises telling the story. Also, a brogue doesn’t require speaking falsetto. The show has potential if this issue improves. It’s a strong script and the actors have a lot of comedic talent. The guns look silly, but the dead cats and butchered people are worth seeing. Some of the humor still comes through, but the more serious theme about the stupidity of violence gets lost when people sound like chipmunks.
Reviewed October 26, 2014
For more information, see The Lieutenant of Inishmore’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at the West Stage in the Raven Theatre, 6157 North Clark Street, Chicago. For tickets, call 773-828-9129 or visit www.astonrep.com. Runs October 30-November 23, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:30 pm. Running time is about 2 hours with one intermission. Tickets are $20 or $20 for students/seniors/industry/groups. Parental advisory for gore.