Review: ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ at Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond (***)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: *****)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“The Lieutenant of Inishmore” plays at the Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond from August 22 through September 28, 2013.)

More than 50 years ago, the great Irish playwright, Brendan Behan, astonished the theatrical world with The Hostage, a dark comedy about the troubles in Northern Ireland. That said troubles have inspired, in one way or another, much of the finest literature and cinema of the past century, few would care to deny.

Martin McDonagh‘s works may well be the most shockingly outre of the lot. “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” is one very shocking, very bloody, very thoughtful, very disturbing and extremely funny play.  The humor is of an unusual sort, involving a good deal of blood, a few exploding heads, the hacking up of multiple corpses, and the flinging about of dead cats. It’s not for every taste. Mcdonagh specializes in extreme violence played for comic effect. Audiences may be familiar with his  2012 film, “Seven Psychopaths” or last year’s production of “A Behanding In Spokane” at San Francisco Playhouse (a company coincidentally helmed by Point Richmond locals Susie Damilano and Bill English).

McDonagh is definitely not typical community theatre fare.

Masquers Playhouse, a community theatre in Point Richmond,  has put together a capable company for this production. If the work is not presented with full professional polish, they nevertheless tell the story well and deliver the goods.

Padraic (Damien Seperi, center) searches for answers in the death of his beloved cat in the Masquers Playhouse production of “The Lieutenant pf Inishmore.” Padraic questions Joey (Alan Coyne, bottom left) and Donny (Avi Jacobson, bottom right) while under pressure from Brendan, Christy, and Joey (Jesse MacKinnon, David Stein, and Dan Kurtz). Photo Credit: Masquers Playhouse
Padraic (Damien Seperi, center) searches for answers in the death of his beloved cat in the Masquers Playhouse production of “The Lieutenant pf Inishmore.” Padraic questions Joey (Alan Coyne, bottom left) and Donny (Avi Jacobson, bottom right) while under pressure from Brendan, Christy, and Davey (Jesse MacKinnon, David Stein, and Dan Kurtz). Photo Credit: Masquers Playhouse

Davey (Alan Coyne) bursts into the home of Donny (Avi Jacobson) with Davey’s dead cat, Wee Thomas,  whom Donny has found by the side of the road. When Donny explains that the cat actually belongs to his absent son Padraic, Davey is terrified.

Padraic (Damien Seperi) is a notoriously violent revolutionary, a self-styled officer in the INRA, an IRA splinter group. Padraic was ejected from the IRA for being too violent. Even by the standards of Northern Irish revolutionaries, Padraic is insanely out of control. And Wee Thomas has been his best and only friend for fifteen years.

Just in case the audience might doubt that Padraic could be as crazy as they say, McDonagh treats us to a graphic scene of torture in which Padraic threatens to cut off the nipple of a drug pusher (Dan Kurtz)  he has kidnapped and hung from his ceiling by the heels.

Are we laughing yet? If not, we will be, as the play becomes increasingly absurd and ever more violent until the stage is strewn with the corpses of revolutionaries and dead cats. The humor arises from the extremity of the violence, which is so peculiarly motivated and perpetuated by ridiculous characters. It is a black comedy tradition that dates back to Elizabethan times and Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus‘ — a similarly violent piece which plays best as comedy.

This sort of thing only works when the actors and designers make a full commitment to go all out. That is the case here, and audiences who are not too squeamish will ultimately be rewarded with many an outraged laugh. The special effects are handled well (credit John Maio) from exploding heads to hacked off limbs.

Of course, the point is the absurdity of violence and McDonagh’s accomplished writing and convincing characters rooted in an all-too-real-history make this clear. The play may be extreme, but this violence is not gratuitous.

Designers Michael Maio (set), Tammy Berlin (costumes) and Steve Hill (lights) have done a fine job.

If McDonagh is your cup of tea, you will find this production to be a suitably strong brew.

For further information, click here.

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“The Lieutenant of Inishmore” by Martin McDonagh, produced by The Masquers Playhouse. Director: John Maio. Customes: Tammy Berlin. Lighting: Steve Hill. Set: Michael Maio.

Davey: Alan Coyne. Donny: Avi Jacobson. Padraic: Damien Seperi.  James/Joey: Dan Kurtz. Mairead: Cherie Girard-Brodigan. Christy: David Stein. Joey: Dan Kurtz. Brendan: Jesse MacKinnon.

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