Under no circumstances let anyone even whisper to you the plot twists of Martin McDonagh’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” Written (as the author has said) in “pacifist rage,” with the explicit desire to “put as much John Woo and Sam Peckinpah into the theater as possible,” this extravaganza is bloody in every way: bloody bloody, bloody funny and bloody great.
The action hinges on lunatics who love murder but treasure their cats even more, which gives a taste of the rollercoaster ride when psychopathic paramilitary Padraic Osborne (Chris Pine) returns home to a remote Aran island to wreak terrible vengeance. There are hints of Joe Orton in the non sequitur jet-black humor, and something of O’Casey in the sideline commentary of local sots Donny (Sean G. Griffin) and Davey (Coby Getzug) as ghastly events unfold.
What there isn’t is overt political content. Like acknowledged influence Quentin Tarantino, McDonagh is a myth-maker. Though Inishmore is a real place, his Irish geography is no less twisted than the Europe of “Inglourious Basterds.” And while characters constantly discuss the Irish Republican Army and splinter groups, the play sheds no more light on the actual Troubles than “Pulp Fiction” anatomizes the truth about American crime.
This masterwork’s real purpose is to expose global terrorism’s absurdity, and it does so by creating gales of laughter that stick in your throat. Listen closely to Padraic’s free-Ireland rhetoric echoed by local sharpshooting lass Mairead (a chilling Zoe Perry), who’s renowned for shooting out cows’ eyes as a political statement. As they jabber between makeout sessions about identifying “valid targets,” you’ll hear the bughouse justification every real-life madman ever offered in the name of freedom and justice.
It’s hard to remember a play so hilarious, hitting notes ringing so scarily true.
U.S.-born helmer Wilson Milam has invested his U.K. and (Tony-nominated) Gotham staging with even sharper humor, while protecting those productions’ seething menace. Laura Fine Hawkes’ setting magnificently evokes a harsh, hilly landscape onto which the rickety Osborne manse has been planted.
The cast doesn’t have a weak link, with special commendation to Griffin’s mordantly off-kilter observations and to Andrew Connolly, Ian Alda and Kevin Kearns as terror’s answer to Moe, Larry and Curly.
Most of all, Pine is spookily, spectacularly good. His smooth assurance in “Star Trek” and last season’s Geffen Playhouse production of “Farragut North” leaves one unprepared for his startling physical investment in Padraic’s insanity, and the emotional peaks and valleys thereafter. On top of its other glories, “Inishmore” audiences are present at the launch of what promises to be a truly remarkable stage career.