The Lieutenant of Inishmore: A Review

Tonight I was fortunate enough to see the Broadway production of Martin McDonagh's "The Lieutenant of Inishmore." First let me say that McDonagh is rapidly becoming my favorite playwright. I saw the Broadway production of "The Pillowman" last year and was amazed and astounded by it. Inishmore does not fail to live up to my expectations. It is not a perfect play, it is obvious having seen Pillowman first that Inishmore is an earlier work, and that McDonagh has matured quite a bit in his writing. Pillowman explored themes pertaining to the power of fiction, and the written word, and did it in ways that left viewers speechless from awe. Inishmore left me speechless as well, but more at the audacity of it than at the depth of character or symbol. The easiest way that I can come up with to describe it is this: Imagine an episode of "Three's Company" as directed by Quentin Tarantino.

I'm going to give you few seconds to imagine that.

You still aren't imagining anything as bold or jaw-droppingly shocking as this show.

The basic premise of the show revolves around a dead cat. This cat though, is a special cat. He is owned, and deeply beloved by an Irish terrorist. An Irish terrorist so batshit crazy in fact that the IRA won't have him and he has had to form his own "splinter group" in order to act out his desire to free Ireland. So, now, go back to your imagination and try to picture what Crissy and Janet might have done to hide that cat if Jack were a homicidal maniac on par with Hannibal Lector.

Act 1 is primarily concerned with putting all of the pieces on the board. The cat. The boy who found the cat's body. The terrorist and his father. The rest of the IRA splinter cell. The young, hometown girl who idolizes and lusts after the terrorist. You also get all the puzzle pieces pertaining to who really killed the cat, who will be taking the blame for that act, who knows the whole story, and what has been done to cover up the deed. With all the dominos in place Act 2 is simply about watching how they fall. This is why I chose a sitcom to compare this show to. The occurrences are pretty predictable, but even as you figure out where the show is going, you won't believe your eyes as it unfolds onstage. Each level of outrageousness opens the door to something else and you will catch yourself repeating the phrase "Oh no... they can't..." under your breath several times. But yes... they can. And yes... they do.

Like most sitcoms the show is pretty surface. For a show with a terrorist as the main character there is surprisingly little political talk and nothing by way "message" that the show is there to deliver. The show simply is what it is, the blackest black comedy you can imagine.

On a personal level I found the set very interesting. Several years ago I worked at the Williamstown Theatre Festival as a props artisan. One of the shows that I worked on that summer was "Philadelphia, Here I Come" by Brian Friehl. I loved that set. It was very simple, a stereotypical box set, the cross section of a house showing a dining room and a bedroom in a traditional Irish home. The landscape of the stage around the house was a near perfect replica of a field of black slate. That set was designed by Hugh Landwehr. When I entered the Lyceum Theatre tonight I was presented with a box set, a cross section of a traditional Irish home set in a landscape of a black field of slate. With a few subtle changes in the details of the house it could have been the same set. On referring to the Playbill I fully expected to find Hugh Landwehr's name. To my surprise though I found Scott Pask, another highly successful NY designer. The interesting thing though... that summer, as Hugh was installing his set upstairs on the mainstage of Williamstown... Scott Pask was downstairs in the Nykos stage installing his own set for another show. Do you think he might have seen the set upstairs?

What really burns me is that I didn't get to steal it first! It's a great design element.

1 Response to "The Lieutenant of Inishmore: A Review"

  • scott pask Says:

    hey atom...glad to have your comments about my work on inishmore and the pillowman.
    though i admire hugh landwehr's work, i actually didn't see his design for philadelphia here i come, at williamstown. while i was there designing The Dumbwaiter/Zoo Story, the show running upstairs was actually arthur miller's the man who had all the luck. the process of arriving at the design for inishmore was long and involved a lot of research...geographical and domestic....its beginnings were at the atlantic theatre, with the shale spanning the entire area between the brick walls of the theatre. a modest budget for the broadway transfer prevented more ambitious embellishment of the landscape. (we wanted the shale to stretch stagewide at the lyceum as well) i chose to hold it in a black void that would still preserve the darknesss necessary for the warehouse and exterior scenes...and allow people to appear from a black void (there are entrances in the black box). i am glad that you found it effective and hope you will check out my upcoming work...currently doing the vertical hour by david hare, directed by sam mendes with julianne moore slated for broadway in the fall among others...do drop me a line if you'd like to take a look at what i'm up to.