If you’re a fan of the felines, you’ll be both repulsed and vindicated with Renegade Theater Company’s current production, The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Directed by Andy Bennett, this dark and bloody comedy written by Martin McDonagh is not for the squeamish, but quickly turns into a giddy guilty pleasure of a stage production. Inishmore was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 2001. What stands out is McDonagh’s Tarantino-esque wit, deftly translated on to the Teatro stage by Renegade’s creative and technical teams.
The action is set on the island of Inishmore in County Galway, Ireland during “The Troubles” — a time where ethno-political unrest marked by violence between Ireland’s Protestants and Catholics over the political identity of Northern Ireland. Paramilitary groups such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) dominated the period with breathtaking acts of violence.
In The Lieutenant of Inishmore, our exposure to The Troubles is filtered through several characters of varying levels of comic instability. The story opens up with the untimely demise (murder) of a cat, Wee Thomas. Donny (Zach Stofer) and Davey (Derik Iverson) bicker and banter over whom is responsible for the cat’s death. We come to learn quickly enough that Wee Thomas is no ordinary cat. He belongs to Donny’s son Padraic (Scott Mallace) a madman so mad he was rejected from the IRA for being too crazy. Of particular note is Stofer and Iverson’s facility with Irish dialects during their performances. It’s not an easy task, but with dialect direction by Sarah Diener and conscientious acting by both performers, the authenticity of the opening moments of the show is put on solid footing. Even if it takes some time to understand what the hell these two guys are talking about, the confusion is irrelevant and even welcomed. The comedic timing, the ease with the script’s veering dialogue, and especially Stofer’s innate humour and his ability to fine-tune and zero in on what’s worthy of a lingering laugh make the top of the show pop with success. Iverson holds his own against Stofer and, gracing the Renegade stage for the first time, offers a gritty and believable performance worthy of a Renegade encore. The two make a plan to find another cat and to tell Padraic that Wee Thomas is on the mend.
Scott Mallace, previously seen in The Sparrow and The Who’s Tommy, delivers a wickedly cool, unbalanced (in a good way) performance as Padraic, the twisted vigilante. We’re introduced to the character in a visually stunning scene with Kyle McMillan as James, a dope-dealer Padraic has seen fit to string up and torture for selling to kids. Mallace takes McDonagh’s lines and turns them into delightfully dark moments while McMillan writhes around, stained with blood, pleading for his life. A call from his father about the cat sends Padraic home to find out what’s become of his best friend of fifteen years. Mallace’s performance, throughout, is even and darkly deft on stage. He is able to, with skill, inhabit his character without skidding off into the unbelievable, even when the script is, itself, verging on outright silliness.
A trio of ne’er do wells, Christy (Evan Kelly), Brendan (Cory Anderson) and Joey (Daniel Novick) insert themselves into the storyline for the show’s plot twist. Kelly is quietly hilarious and Novick turns in a smart, humorous performance. The scene where they plot against Padraic is filled with some of the driest comedic lines of the show and the three actors play off each other adroitly.
Jenna Kase is the spunky and, yes, scary sixteen year old Mairead, Davey’s kid sister outfitted with a gun and a heart filled with ire for the establishment. She longs to become involved in the fight to free Ireland and sets her sights on Padraic as he returns to Inishmore. Kase shines in the role, dipping into the darker levels of her character when called for and layering her performance with the tension each scene demands. Her natural beauty is a wicked juxtaposition with her character’s demeanor, one of the stronger casting choices adding much to the show’s overall mood.
Yes, the play is centered around the fate of a madman’s cat and all the ensuing and convoluted consequences wrought from the minds of cold-blooded killers. But, it works, and works well for the assembled cast. The technical aspects of the show are well-executed with lighting design by Noah Craft and detailed yet unobtrusive set design by Anika Thompson. The sound design by Andy Bennett, including scene change music is fast and furious–appropriate framing for each scene of the show, keeping the action and the mood swift during changes, thankfully. As advertised, this show has its fair share of blood and gore, including several gunshots during the second act. Ear plugs are offered in the lobby, but are really not necessary if you’re going to be a participant in the grit of the show’s performance.
With plot twists, insane intrigue, muscular dialogue, and swiftly moving action bristling with dark humour, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is an unexpectedly pleasurable night of gore and callous disregard for life–human life, that is. Bennett, cast, and crew deserve credit for taking an improbable concept from script to stage with great timing and skill. Not to be missed.
THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE. Written by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Andy Bennett for Renegade Theater Company at Teatro Zuccone, 222 East Superior Street, Duluth. With Zach Stofer, Derik Iverson, Scott Mallace, Jenna Kase, Kyle McMillan, Evan Kelly, Cory Anderson, and Daniel Novick. The show runs Thursdays through Saturdays through April 30. Curtain time: 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. This review is based on the opening night performance.