There may well be an “Eeew! Yuk!” threshold of onstage gore, but one suspects that Irish playwright Martin McDonagh either hasn’t reached it or else he’s gotten a little bored of trying. Indeed, there are some significant stretches of his much ballyhooed Tony nominee “The Lieutenant of Inishmore _ finally at the Mark Taper Forum after a year long delay _ where, narratively speaking, the characters seem to be treading water. Or blood, as the case may be.
Make no mistake, there are moments of such sickening “Oh, I can top this” grossness in “Inishmore” that an audience should get plenty queasy. The fact that McDonagh and director Wilson Milam have left most of these interludes in “Inishmore” for after the intermission may lessen the number of walkouts.
The, er, unusual thing about this is that many of the Inishmore-ians don’t seem overly perturbed by the violence, torture, poked out eyes and mutilated corpses in their midst. Admittedly, the titular “lieutenant,” a disgraced IRA terrorist named Padriac (pronounced Poor-ick and played by Chris Pine) has a reputation for this kind of mayhem, but good gracious, is this kind of stuff so common place in County Galway that a person can sit amidst corpses and calmly stick a gore-soaked hand in a box of Frosted Flakes and pop the cereal into his mouth? (Given the kinds of stuff happening in McDonagh’s previous output including “The Cripple of Inishmaan, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane and “The Lonesome West,” I’m kind of thinking it is.) Credit special effects technician Waldo Warshaw and prosthetics man Matthew W. Mungle; the butchery sure looks authentic.
The pitch dark comedy of the situation is certainly present in Milam’s production at the Taper; his cast certainly knows when and how to lob in a quip just as things are reaching an apex of grotesque. And if you can take yourself out of the moment enough to see the absurdity of a torture victim with two toe nails removed hanging from his ankles and discussing how to get expel ringworm from of a cat with his torturer, then you’ll get McDonagh’s sense of humor. The excellent Brett Ryback plays the torture victim. His single scene, and his timing, are memorable.
Pine, on the other hand, while an increasingly watchable stage performer and probably a movie star in the offing, doesn’t quite nail Padriac’s hair-trigger danger. We’re to assume that this psychopathic avenging angel _ who proclaims he wants a cleaned up Ireland _has a warped sense of justice and very peculiar priorities. Pine’s not laughing at the character exactly, but it’s a bit too easy to believe that there is someone out there _ someone quite near by in fact _ who is even more bonkers than he is.
Padraic’s best friend of 15 years _ likely his only friend _ is a black cat named Wee Thomas. In the play’s very first scene, before a word of dialogue is uttered, Padriac’s father Donny (played by Sean G. Griffin) and a half witted teen named Davey (Coby Getzug) are looking balefully down at the remains of a black cat. “Is he dead?” asks Davey? Donny picks up the corpse, and a piece of something _ brain presumably _ falls off. “Ay,” he replies. Whee!!
Come to find out that this isn’t just any cat and its owner isn’t just any cat fancier. Padriac, a terrorist considered too extreme for the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) or anything other than a splinter group of his own creation, has literally destroyed people over far lesser offences. Davey’s toast if he can’t cook up a plausible explanation or a substitute feline before the stroke of midnight when Padraic returns home to check on his beloved pet’s health. It’s Davey who, by the way, ran over Wee Thomas on his bicycle.
Or did he? Padraic’s old running mate in terrorism Christy (Andrew Connolly) seems to know something more about Wee Thomas’s demise and he’s very anxious for Padriac to come home. The same goes for Davey’s older sister Mairead (Zoe Perry), a 16 year old who worships Padraic, and wants to join the rebels. She’s a dead shot with a BB gun, a fact she has demonstrated by blinding a bunch of cows at 90 ft. Whee! Again.
Perry, playing a cracked patriot with a very bad hair style and enough adolescent moxie to ask Padriac to take her to the dance, makes for a rather lovely anti hero. The chemistry is there between her and Pine’s Padriac (more from her), although having the two of them making out amidst bullets and carnage makes for a rather forced laugh.
Now there seem some rather obvious lessons to take away from “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” beyond the standard, don’t deal drugs to children when there’s a terrorist around who frowns on such behavior. They include:
1. Do not try to pass off another cat to a cat lover as his cat. And
2. If you do, make sure the fake cat is the same color as the original and if you don’t do that…
3. Finish coloring the changeling kitty with something better than shoe polish before you get drunk and be sure to hide the evidence of your, ahem, trickery
4. No matter how much of a feline lover you are, never assume that your love of cats trumps that of everyone else you meet. Shoot first and monolog later might also be good advice.
See enough McDonagh, and what should be shocking can feel almost perfunctory, especially when the players in the midst of it seem almost casual. There’s little down that Martin McDonagh would have that extra eye popped out or that nipple sheared off if he could find a way to make it play or plot relevant. I’m not so sure that this production’s Padriac could make it happen, and I’m not sure the good people of Inishmore would blink if he did.
“The Lieutenant of Inishmore” plays 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday; through Aug. 8 at 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. (213) 628-2778, www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.