Bloody hell! No, that’s not an expletive, it’s a description of Martin McDonagh’s play “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” now messing up the stage of the Mark Taper Forum. A bizarre black farce about the deadly “Troubles” in Northern Ireland — how’s that for an oxymoron! — “The Lieutenant of Inishmore" can best be described as “yucky.” Yuck as in big laughs, and yuck as in “eeeeeew, that’s so disgusting!”
It all begins with a dead black cat. Not only dead, but decapitated. The cat, Wee Thomas, is the cherished pet of the renegade terrorist Padraic — pronounced Poric — played by Chris Pine, who is first seen torturing a man who is shackled at the ankles and hanging upside down. Padraic is a member of the INLA, the Irish National Liberation Army, an excessively violent group of psychopaths best known for bombings, kidnappings, and drug dealing. Interrupted by a phone call from his dad, Donny, (Sean C. Griffin), Padraic takes off for home to nurse Wee Thomas, who he has been told is “doing poorly.”
Meanwhile, Donny and his young helper Davey (Coby Getzug) are busy covering an orange cat with black shoe polish in order to persuade Padraic that Wee Thomas is still alive.
When Padraic finally arrives home, the plot thickens. Or, rather, clots. He is confronted by three gun-toting thugs from a different renegade group who want to kill him. And here you need to refer to the play’s program notes, which provide a brief history of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and its constantly evolving splinter groups, with acronyms such as PIRA, OIRA, INLA, IRSP and PLA. (Don’t ask!)
There is also a love interest: Mairead (Zoe Perry), a young girl who looks like a boy (short hair, no boobs) and spends her days shooting cows in the eyes as a protest against butchers who charge too much. She believes she can put the butchers out of business because “who would want to buy meat off a blind cow?”
“The Lieutenant of Inishmore" continues as a mock Shakespearean drama until most of the characters are dead and the stage is awash in a river of blood. Literally. And as those still alive slosh around in it, you wonder what keeps them from skidding across the stage and landing in the third row.
Set designer Laura Fine Hawkes has provided a cozy Irish home as well as an outdoor setting of artfully stacked gray planks and Stephanie Kerley Schwartz has costumed the cast in suitably nondescript and timeless outfits. Cricket S. Myers is the sound designer and Matt McKenzie has provided original music, but the overwhelming — and fabulous — sound is of tattooing drums, raising the roof between scenes.
“The Lieutenant of Inishmore" is a guilty pleasure. You can’t believe you’re laughing at it even while you’re shuddering at all the blood and gore. Perhaps the laughs come as a result of the tight direction of Wilson Milam, who keeps the ensemble to its impeccable timing — hysteria moderated by long Pinteresque pauses. Milam has directed this production since its first performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2001 and its subsequent performances in New York.
Playwright Martin McDonagh has won Tony nominations for “The Beauty Queen of Leenane," "The Lonesome West,” “The Plowman,” and this play, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” He has also been nominated for an Oscar (and won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, or BAFTA award) for his screenplay “In Bruges.” His next film, he has said, will be one called “Seven Psychopaths.” We can hardly wait!
“The Lieutenant of Inishmore" will continue at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., in Los Angeles, Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. through Aug. 8. Call (213) 628-2772 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.