Chicago Theatre Review
Blood and Guts and Glee in Ireland
The Lieutenant of Inishmore
It all begins with a dead cat named Wee Thomas and two frantic Irish men shouting and blaming each other for what just happened. Donny and Davey both know that Padraic, Donny’s twenty-something son, is crazy. A violently unstable 2nd lieutenant within an IRA splinter group, the Irish National Liberation Army, and Wee Thomas’ owner, is first encountered torturing James, a young man whose only crime was selling a joint to some teenaged kid. What Padraic will do when he discovers that his beloved feline friend of 14 years has been killed justifiably terrifies the two men.
Thus begins a chain of outlandish, unspeakable events in Martin McDonagh’s 2001 black comedy. This is the second play of his Aran Islands Trilogy, which includes “The Cripple of Inishmaan” and the unpublished “The Banshees of Inisheer.” The playwright and screenwriter, known for other theatrical works, like the Tony-nominated “The Pillowman,” “A Behanding in Spokane,” “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” “A Skull in Connemara,” as well as the critically-acclaimed film, “In Bruges,” is noted for his sinister, grim sense of humor, his fiercely violent plots and his cast of characters who range from dippy to deranged. This play is classic McDonagh and, despite its eccentric characters, savage events and gory visuals it will leave the audience in stitches.
Derek Bertelsen has once again worked his directorial magic and made this quirky, dark drama pulsate with the necessary irreverence and eccentricity that eventually begins to seem almost normal. Running at full tilt, Mr. Bertelsen provides a trivial few seconds for audiences to register shock to each bout of blood, guts, gunfire and inhumanity that flows like the River Shannon throughout this 90-minute one-act. Kendra Kargenian’s hard work as dialect doctor for these eight actors, results in thick, lilting brogues that, surprisingly, both sound authentic and are understandable. Cast member Robert Tobin has choreographed his fellow actors to within an inch of their lives, and the creativity and inventiveness of theatre artists Jeremiah Barr and Kait Mikitin are put to the test as they provide certainly some of the strangest and most challenging props of their career.
The entire cast is excellent and they work well as an ensemble. John Wehrman’s Padraic is a high voltage Irishman with a hair-trigger temper and an unusual sense of justice. All sinewy, electric energy, Mr. Wehrman seems to practically generate sparks during his well-nuanced performance. The kind of manic intensity this character demands really takes a special actor, like Wehrman. Scott Olson, as Danny, is unexpectedly funny while demonstrating that, as Padraic’s Da, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Matthew Harris is pathetically charming and likable, playing teenaged Davey with understanding and empathy. His sister Mairead, as portrayed by spitfire actress Nora Lise Ulrey, is a young pistol-packing mama who surprises the audience with both her passion and her hardware capabilities. Scott Wolf evokes much sympathy in his scene as James, the tortured marijuana dealer. The small rebel splinter group within the INLA individually consists of Robert Tobin’s somewhat dim-witted Christy, the gang’s leader, an unstable, fiercely allegiant Brendan, as played by a feisty Tim Larson, and the gentler, slower-on-the-uptake maverick, Joey, portrayed with sensitivity by Chadwick Sutton. Collectively they’re a fighting force terrible to behold.
AstonRep continually ups the ante, demonstrating why they’re a storefront theatre to be taken seriously. Consistently offering Chicago audiences a finely produced combination of new works, older classics and rarely-seen past comedies and dramas, this company enters the Fall season with gusto. As McDonagh’s twisted, exciting, offbeat comedy both repulses and impresses audiences with it’s black humor and stirring performances, this impressive company provides an Autumnal treat that also harbors a few tricks up its theatrical sleeve.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 23-November 23 by AstonRep Theatre Company on the West Stage at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-828-9129 or by going to www.astonrep.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.