Arts & Events

Masquers “The Lieutenant of Inishmore”—gruesomely entertaining

By John A. McMullen II
Thursday September 19, 2013 - 09:22:00 PM
Padraic (Damien Seperi, center) searches for answers in the death of his beloved cat in the Masquers Playhouse production of “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” (bottom Alan Coyne, Avi Jacobson; background Jesse MacKinnon, David Stein, and Dan Kurtz).
Jerry Telfer
Padraic (Damien Seperi, center) searches for answers in the death of his beloved cat in the Masquers Playhouse production of “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” (bottom Alan Coyne, Avi Jacobson; background Jesse MacKinnon, David Stein, and Dan Kurtz).

“The Lieutenant of Inishmore” by Martin McDonagh sounds like an heroic Irish play. However, Martin McDonagh—master of gruesome violence and dark irony—wrote it.

Now playing at Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond through September 28, the play is about the murderous violence since “The Troubles” began anew in 1969 and lasted almost 30 years.

This play was written in the late 90’s when the violence had become extreme and often turned away from its roots toward gangsterism while being supported in part through drug-trafficking.

It’s about the misplaced affection for a pet of a hardened revolutionary for whom assassination and torture were an everyday occurrence.

Throughout, it is extraordinarily funny in that tongue in cheek Irish manner.  

This production, directed by John Maio, does the violence convincingly and is not for the faint of heart or squeamish, and if you have a pronounced attachment to your feline pet, you perhaps should skip it. 

Gunshots and blood spatters are effective in a Grand Guignol fashion, then undone by obvious dummies being used for dismemberment (though it might be hard to cast it if method acting were used). 

The set by Mike Maio is a well-designed and depressing bachelor’s cottage in need of a coat of paint, a woman’s hand, and a trip to Home Depot. 

While the accents are much better than most community theatre productions, the subtext is too often lost while the actors immerse themselves in sounding Irish rather than immersing themselves in the nuances of “being” Irish (example of Irish humor: “They buried Paddy Farrell yesterday. Dead y’know.”) 

There are many hysterically funny moments in the dialogue which are passed over by not recognizing and playing their deadpan irony. There is a lot of hollering and chaos in this production which dispels the needed tension. Ironically, Avi Jacobson (a fine Irish name!) probably has the best accent, while one actor unfortunately employs a “Lucky Charms” dialect that rises to a jolting register that made me clench my teeth. 

The Lieutenant is played convincingly by Damien Seperi as a sociopath who can maim casually and murder without compunction, but dissolves into tears at the news that his cat, which is his only emotional tie, is doing poorly, and rushes home. In a cliché, he meets the now-grown up colleen Mairead (played by Cherie Girard-Brodigan), who was a child when he left to be a partisan in the Tuaisceart Éireann underground. She too is a cat lover and his distaff alter ego. With their love bred from a mutual fondness for insurrection and mayhem, McDonagh sets up the twisted denouement that shows the psychopathy that too often happens to revolutionaries. 

Nevertheless, it is entertaining and gives you another insight into McDonagh’s imagination. McDonagh is of Irish descent but was born and raised in London. He wrote The Pillowman (Tony nomination, Olivier Award) and The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Tony award for Best Play) among others, as well as the Oscar for Best Short Film—Six Shooter—and The Guard, Seven Psychopaths, and In Bruges. 

For those a little foggy about the Irish situation, the Rebellion of 1916 resulted in the Irish winning independence in all but the six northern counties which continued to be part of the UK. After 40 years of discrimination from the Protestant Ulster Unionists, non-violent civil resistance was initiated in 1967, but the response from the Ulster Volunteer Force and the British Army turned violent, and the IRA was reinvigorated. 

Mairead sings a refrain from the song “The Patriot Game” by Dominic Behan (brother of the famous Irish playwright Brendan): “Come all ye young rebels, and list while I sing /For the love of one's country is a terrible thing/ It banishes fear with the speed of a flame/ And it makes us all part of the patriot game. 

My name is O'Hanlon/ and I've just turned sixteen. My home is in Monaghan, where I was weaned/ 

I learned all my life cruel England to blame/ So now I am part of the patriot game.” 

The rest of the poignant lyrics can be found at 

(Critic’s editorial and disclaimer

I’m perhaps not the least partisan critic to review this work. My great-grandfather fought in the rebellion of 1916-21. I was brought up with tales of the Bold Fenian Men, the tragic Battle of the Boyne and Cromwell’s cruelty, and, as a child, thought the accepted form of reference to the English was “bloody Johnny Bulls.” I remember my Da and I singing “The Wearing of the Green” at the Ancient Order of Hibernians mid-March—it’s a song about the English outlawing wearing the color green, written by the famous Irish actor Dion Boucicault.  

One time when the men from Ireland came through collecting for the Widows and Orphans fund, Jimmy Gleason rose to object that the money was going to guns for rebellion. My Da’ rose to say, “If it isn’t going for arms to fight the bloody British, I won’t give a feckin’ red cent!”  

In the wake of 9/11, the romanticism of the Irish Rebels fighting for their right to rule their own land has been revised. Tarred with today’s “terrorism” label, the IRA is often lumped in with all other organizations— stoked by religion and inequality—that fight for their sovereignty. Remember that the British complained about the terrorist tactics of the Sons of Liberty in the American Revolution. There is a cogent quotation, ironically by John Harington who was a commander of a regiment of the English forces sent by Queen Elizabeth to quell “Tyrone’s Rebellion” in 1599: "Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason." Noteworthy, perhaps, is that Harington is also credited as the inventor of the flush toilet.)