Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Guns Blazing

July 19, 2010

Chris Pine and Zoe Perry
Photo: Craig Schwartz/CTG

Martin McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a smart and funny play. It’s now onstage at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. through August 8 after being rescheduled from last season. In fact, it’s so smart and so funny that it might just convince you that it’s saying something more daring than it is. But it isn’t really. The play has become McDonagh’s calling card. Set during “the troubles” in Ireland, a loose association of people with too many guns create some havoc over a dead cat while exacting some largely off-stage torture along the way. To be honest, the less said about the show the better. This is one of those outings where everything is much funnier and shocking if you haven’t read about it much, so I’ll try to keep my descriptions on the lean side. McDonagh is no stranger to the rich tradition of tragic-comic storytelling in Irish letters and drama. He generates big laughs here in the most unlikely of places and you really shouldn't miss this show if you haven't been initiated into his world.

But with all its twists and turns, McDonagh’s theatrical blood bath deals with something most of us in the West are already painfully aware of – the moral hypocrisy of the terrorist mindset. The jokes here are not to drive home uncomfortable truths, but instead serve to reaffirm what we already know by craftily packaging it as a revelation. Like I said it’s clever, but it also rings of a fait accompli. Not that The Lieutenant of Inishmore will seem alien to anyone familiar with McDonagh’s other work. Indeed, if anything, it risks being indistinguishable. What it’s most lacking is ambivalence and subtlety. McDonagh doesn’t have the touch of say Enda Walsh who has mined similar thematic veins with just as funny, but a lot more creepy, results.

The performances are fairly good across the board. Zoe Perry’s Mairead and Chris Pine’s Padraic do generate enough chemistry to keep the mushier parts of the story going. Pine may be a little to all-American handsome for the part, but his acting skills compensate by avoiding the many tongue-in-cheek temptations that lie within the script. There is a lot of detail here outside of the two headliners and director Wilson Milam manages to keep all of the ensemble right on target in their own mordant little corners of this wicked world. In the end, I suppose The Lieutenant of Inishmore has charms that outweigh the sometimes hollow feeling at its core. There’s plenty of amusement in this theatrical bludgeoning, even if that sometimes involves the audience.


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