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Theatre review: The Lieutenant of Inishmore at Syracuse Stage

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The Lieutenant of Inishmore runs at Syracuse Stage through February 3. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng attended a recent performance and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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When a play is publicized as "a gleeful, gruesome and over-the-top comedy," the audience comes expecting just that.  I expected more.  When, in addition, the special effects are sometimes so unrealistic that there is no moment of shock forcing the audience to turn away, playwright Martin McDonagh's point is lost.  THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE is then no longer about brutal and mindless barbarity.  The gratuitous bloodiness becomes the equivalent of Wylie Coyote being splattered on the road.

However the play remains very funny, even without the serious black edge.  Set on the Aran Island of Inishmore in the early 90s, it centers around the bloody deeds of Padraic, member of an IRA splinter group who was rejected as "too mad" by the regular IRA.  When his beloved cat Wee Thomas is killed, a gruesome chain of reprisals is set in motion.  I should add here Director Robert Moss's disclaimer that no cats are harmed in the course of the play.

Designer Adam Stockhausen has cut down the proscenium opening to allow the basic cottage set to glide on and off, providing quick and ingenious set changes.  Camille Assaf's costumes are good, especially Mairead's boots.  The lighting by Matthew Richards and sound, (especially the meows), by Jonathan Herter are also good and add to the production.  I'd also like to congratulate Joseph Whelan for the excellent program essays.

As for Waldo Warshaw's special effects, some work and some don't.  Most of the gunshots do, whereas the bodies in the final scenes are so unrealistic they elicit giggles rather than gasps.  Without a doubt the best and most gruesome is the dead cat in the opening scene.

The cast is mostly good, and Malcolm Ingram has done a great job with the dialects.  Sean Tarrant, with his leather coat and eye patch, makes a good splinter group villain, as do TJ Clark as his sensitive sidekick and Brent Vintrup as his brutal one.  I especially enjoyed their argument about cat battering.  Mr. Vintrup also does a great job playing a believable torture scene hanging upside down by his ankles.

Unfortunately Christian Conn, whose work I admired in BUG, is weak as the mad Padraic.  He seems almost dreamy at times and lacks true pathological intensity.  We can't believe he inspires fear in everyone.  I kept wishing for a glint of Christopher Walken in his eye.  On the other hand Molly Camp as Mairead does have it.  I could thoroughly believe that she does her target practice by shooting out cows' eyes.

The two strongest performances are given by Don Amendolia as Donny, Padriac's father, and Patrick Edgar as Davey, Mairead's brother.  They're both hilarious three dimensional bumblers and set the tone of the play in the opening scene.  They're also very good at playing drunks.

Director Moss has staged the play well, but the combination of a weak leading man and lack of realism in some of the effects undercuts the power of the play, leaving only the comedy.  To quote Fintan O'Toole of the IRISH TIMES, "The characters are cartoon creatures who really die when someone fires a shotgun at their heads."  In this production we don't believe that anyone really dies - not even a cat.

On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage production of THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE gets three and seven-eighths oranges.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

 

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