Theatre Review: “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Phoenix Theatre

 

From left: Patrick Koenig, Shane Chuvalas, and Ben Ayres in “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”On Thursday night I went downtown to see the opening performance of Martin McDonagh’s “The Lieuntenant of Inishmore,” directed by Bryan Fonseca at the Phoenix Theatre.

 

It is an odd show, filled with violence but surprisingly entertaining.  It is worth seeing simply because of its unusual special effects, but there are other reasons to see it as well.

 

I am warning you right now that this review has a few spoilers in it.

 

 

The show opens with two buffoons, Donny (Stephen Hunt) and Davey (Benjamin Snyder) in a grimy little house in Ireland.   (Set designed by James Gross and lit by Laura E. Glover, assisted by Alissa Baker.)

 

Donny and Davey are upset because there is a dead cat on the kitchen table.

 

Mind you, they are not upset because of the cat’s mysteriously spilled brains but because the cat belongs to Padraic (Shane Chuvalas), a man so crazy that not even the IRA would accept him.  He had to start his own splinter group in order to continue traveling around and setting off bombs for the cause.  Donny and Davey know that when this man finds out that his beloved Wee Thomas is dead, their own deaths will follow.

 

They decide to call him and tell him just that Wee Thomas is poorly.  They figure they can ease into telling him later that his cat passed away.

 

When his cell phone rings, Padraic is in the middle of torturing a drug dealer (Nick Carpenter) as part of his own “Free Ireland” plan.  However, when he hears that Wee Thomas is ill, he unstrings his prisoner, gives him some cash for a cab to the hospital, and speeds home himself to look after his “only friend.”

 

Meanwhile, some of his terrorist former buddies (Ben Ayres, Patrick Koenig, and Ben Tebbe) are lying in wait to kill him. Tebbe is hilarious as the highly sensitive Joey.  Ayres makes a convincing and practical leader of the thugs.  Koenig’s Irish accent fades in and out a bit, but his good looks (those black curls!) and his character’s funny quirks distracted me effectively from the weaknesses in his accent.

 

Also in the meantime, Mairead, the girl-child that Padraic left behind, has grown into a young woman (Joanne Dubach.)  She is now an experienced sharp-shooter – she blinded 10 cows with a popgun from 60 yards – and more eager than ever to join with him in more ways than one.  Dubach sings Mairead’s rebel ballads full out, giving her character a touching poignancy even as she grinds her finger into her brother, Davey’s, wound.

 

There is a lot of tantrum throwing right from the beginning, and a whole slew of very believable gunshots fairly early on.  When everyone finally gets together, the intensity of the violence kicks up, or down, to yet another level, involving still more torture and butchering.

 

My first thought when the house lights came up at the end was, “I am glad that I do not have the job of cleaning that stage for tomorrow’s performance!”  There were pools of blood and piles of body parts everywhere.  A real mess.

 

All of the costumes, designed by Deb Sargent, were drenched, too.  Does fake blood come easily off of a leather jacket? I wondered.

 

But what lingers with me is the fact that I also left laughing.  Mindless, never-ending commitment to a cause, any cause, is ultimately just ridiculous.  There are some real “idjits” in this play, and some truly bark-worthy funny lines and bits.

 

I also left turned on, which would have disturbed me except that one time several years ago a friend took me shooting at his gun club.  The surge of unexpected sexual energy that I felt then, while shooting a gun at a target just to be polite, was undeniable. I began to understand the complexity behind gun lovers refusing to put down their guns.  It’s not just about “security.”

 

I recognized that same undeniable energy again in this play when Padraic and Mairead joined forces.  Chuvalas is just plain hot all by himself, and Dubach plays a ferocious 16-year-old.  Add lots of shooting to their already snapping chemistry, and it is easy to overlook the fact that the lovers are slipping in blood as they reach for each other.

 

Waldo Ottoman Warshaw was brought in from New York to be Special Effects Designer and Fight Director.  During the curtain talk, Managing Director Sharon Gamble told us that Warshaw’s nickname is “Wow,” but not just because of his initials.  He was the original weapons master, fight choreographer, and blood effects designer for the Broadway production of this show.

 

I was definitely wow-ed by the blood that came spurting, gushing, splashing, and spraying out of people’s bodies throughout the Phoenix production.

 

David Schlatter created all of the bloody props here – the dead cats and the various body parts.  What a job that must have been.  They all seemed just right to me, except for the torso stuffed in the oven with the crucifix in its back.  I think that prop was meant to be Christy’s torso, but he had been wearing a cream sweater when he was alive and the torso was wearing a white shirt.  That distracted me for a while.  But maybe Christy had been wearing the white shirt under the sweater and the sweater was now lost among the carnage?

 

I am laughing as I write this: I know it sounds horrible!  And it was horrible, but also, somehow, funny.  These people are just so messed up, emotionally and mentally.  Therefore the physical mess is just…messy.

 

The hardest part to watch was the torture scene because even though it had some funny aspects, it came early in the play, before I had been desensitized to the violence.

 

It was also hard to watch because it was so believable.  The poor actor (Nick Carpenter) who plays James, the already bruised and mangled drug dealer, is actually hanging upside down for a long, long time as he first tries to convince Padraic not to cut off his nipples and then waits for him to get off the phone.

 

I was glad that most of the dismemberment later in the play actually happens between scenes.  Seeing the before and after was shocking enough.  As Davey says, “It keeps getting worse and worse and worse.”

 

Some of the scene changes seemed quite complicated, but they took place quickly.  I wished I could buy a soundtrack CD of the Irish songs used by sound designer Andrew Hopson to cover the scene changes.

 

All of the characters have thick Irish accents, so I couldn’t always understand what they were saying, but it didn’t matter.  “Sure an’ ye just let the wards and the feelin’s roll over ye, and ye’ll pick up the feckin’ gist afore ye know it.”

 

Rocco Dal Vera, Head of Voice and Speech at the University of Cincinnati, served as dialect coach for the American actors.  I loved the resulting rich and (I assume) authentic sound.

 

I had to laugh at myself though: how I could I still swoon over that lilting accent when it was spoken by killers?  But I did.  I also enjoyed the way that the play pokes a little fun at tourists’ blind images of Ireland.

 

If you are a cat lover like me, and if you are still reading this, I want to say another wee word about the dead cats. I almost didn’t go to this show because I had heard there were dead cats in it.   Dismembered humans are one thing, but dead cats?  No.  Not my idea of entertainment.

 

However, you don’t see the dead cats much, and when you do see them, they are just fake-looking enough to be reassuring.  Also, part of the point of the play is that the cats are revered at the expense of human relationships, so no one is ever very harsh to the fake cats.

 

And then the live cat at the end (Random Simmons) is such a sweetie that it’s almost worth going to the show just to see him.  No one harms him, thank goodness.

 

I was also surprised when I heard that ten free tickets for teens aged 16 through 19 are available on a first-come, first-served basis for each performance.  This is the Phoenix’ contribution to Free Ticket February, a nine-year-old collaborative program of the League of Indianapolis Theatres designed to introduce young people to the arts.

 

(For information about additional participants, visit www.myspace.com/freeticketfebruary.)

 

I think it is great to introduce young people to the arts, but this show has some pretty mature content.

 

On the other hand, I know from hearing gamer teens talk about their computer activities that cursing, shooting, and butchering are common elements in popular games.  Maybe “Inishmore” would be a perfect show for older teens who think live theatre is boring.

 

For any older teen, and for any adult, this show offers several layers of things to think about.

 

Everyone in this play has something or someone that he or she cares about enough to risk his life over – whether it is his hairstyle or his insistence on proper quote citations or his cat – but everyone is also hollow inside from living so long with unrelenting violence. The theme of “blindness” is layered into the story several times, as is the idea of madness.

 

Along with a wealth of intriguing special effects and a lot of unexpected laughs, this piece offers good food for thought about the ultimate absurdity of terrorism or any other kind of fanaticism.

 

“The Lieutenant of Inishmore” plays at the Phoenix Theatre Thursdays-Sundays through March 9, 2008.  Call 317-635-PLAY for more information.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

4 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Phoenix Theatre”

  1. Hello! “Lt. of Inishmore” costumer here! Damn, you have a good eye for detail. The reason the actor Christy wore a different shirt from the fake body of Christy – is due to financal limitations. I had to give the blood guys costumes for the dummies before I even knew what the real actors were going to wear. And with all that fake blood – everything white or creme or light colored gets ruined and has to be disposed of – actually they turn into rags to clean up fresh blood. And to show-off Christy’s blood effects he needs a light colored shirt with a pocket. So, I went thrifting for Christy’s shirts and he is such a size that I’m just happy if I have enough white, sorta white or close enough to white shirts to get through one week of performance. I thought that with all the blood – that nobody in the audience would notice. Guess I was wrong. I’m at the theatre after an 8 pm show until 2 or 3 in the morning – just doing my best to get the blood out of the costumes. I am on my knees with a scrub brush for hours – the cast calls me “Cinderella!” If anyone out there wants to donate white shirts that button and have a pocket and a medium thickness (the material can’t be too thin or the blood packet in his pocket will show) in a large or extra large – I would be grateful and nobody will end up confused! Every actor in the production has at least two sets of costumes in case I can’t get the blood out. And Joanne gets a new dress EVERY performance because I have yet to find a dress under $5 that can take the abuse. And strangely enough – the leather jackets are easier to clean than most of the costumes. I encourage everyone to make reservations for this show (635-PLAY)- we’re sold-out for this weekend and I have a feeling tickets will be hard to come by for the whole run. And the earlier in the run you come – the less “pink” residue will show up on the costumes! And if you REALLY want the full experience, wear your work clothes and stay for the clean-up. Hope to see you in the audience.

  2. Deb, thank you very much for giving me (and my readers) all this great “insider” info! It is fascinating! And I will, indeed, be calling you “Cinderella” from now on!

    I have been thinking that I would like to see this show again towards the end of the run, not only because I enjoyed it the first time but because I am curious what the set, props, and costumes will look like after nights and nights of carnage.

    I hadn’t realized I could sign up for a “reality show” theatre clean-up experience, too! That sounds like fun! Once. (hee hee)

    Thanks again, Deb, for your comments. Congratulations on a wonderful show!

  3. It seems I have a habit of coming in as a rock star, then leaving a bloody mess behind. I just want to say, Indianapolis is very fortunate to have a place like the Phoenix. Art should never be confined to limits, it’s enough that humans find ways to limit themselves. The Phoenix in my opinion is a breath of fresh air for all willing for a leap into a new viscosity of entertainment. In the end, as well as I design my effects and choreography, I’m just making pizza. Kudos go to the cast, crew, Bryan Fonseca & the Phoenix, they deliver the pizza, clean up then are willing to do it again. Welcome to the bloodiest show in Indianapolis.
    It’s been my sincere pleasure working with such a talented cast, crew & director.

    Best to all who check out what the Phoenix has to offer.
    Sincerely,
    Waldo Warshaw
    Special Effects Designer
    Fight Choreographer

  4. (laughing) You ARE a rock star! Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! I am flustered and…and…I am never going to wash this screen again!

    Sincere thanks for your willingness to come to Indy, too. Your work is amazing!

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