Bloody good fun is going on at the Alley Theatre right now, and I'm not speaking in metaphor. Martin McDonagh, whose brilliantly creepy The Pillowman ran at the Alley two seasons ago, slathers the stage with guts and gore with his latest offering. A 2004 Tony nominee, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is gorier — if not nearly as serious — as The Pillowman. And the Alley company seems to be enjoying every blood-drenched moment of the gruesome tale. This festival of violence about a man so dangerous that even the IRA won't have him is funny. Think of it as a farce for the new millennium. Anyone who appreciates Quentin Tarantino or a good slasher film will be able to laugh at McDonagh's strange fascination with violence and death.
From the opening, we know we're in for it. Donny (John Tyson) is upstage looking at the bashed-in head of Wee Thomas, a cat who's been entrusted to him for safekeeping. He hasn't done such a good job, though — the poor thing is dead. There's goop dripping out of the hole in his head. Watching Donny's examination is Davey (Brandon Hearnsberger), the odd boy who found the cat while riding a pink bicycle up and down the back roads of Inishmore, the old world Irish island where these knuckleheads live. Davey feels sad for the little cat — until he finds out who owns it. That would be Donny's own son Padraic (Chris Hutchison), a man so crazy-violent, the IRA wouldn't let him join. Donny and Davey know nothing good will come out of telling Padraic his cat is dead. So after several moments of bumbling head-scratching, the two hatch a plan involving shoe polish and lots of alcohol — think I Love Lucy meets Pulp Fiction, and you'll get close to how silly and awful this plan is.
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Meanwhile (and with McDonagh, a master of his craft, there is always a meanwhile) Padraic is currently out of town, hacking off the toenails of James (Justin Doran), a dealer who's been selling marijuana to kids. Saving Ireland is Padraic's "work," and this great mission is accomplished through such chores as slicing body parts off drug dealers. Padraic's next bit of business has to do with James's nipples, but then his dad phones about the cat. All work stops. The dear pussy is Padraic's best friend in the whole world, and apparently, the kitty is "feeling poorly," according to Padraic's dad. After he rings off, the terrorist chats with his blood-soaked victim, who's strung upside down by chains, about what could be wrong with his friend. It could be ringworm, which isn't too scary, nothing that a bottle of pills won't fix. This banal conversation held during a scene of horrifying violence becomes a motif running throughout the play. McDonagh delights in the grotesque irony of such moments, just as he enjoys such gross-out moments as the guts falling out of an animal.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 713-220-5700.
Through February 24. $47-$51.
Padraic is undone after Donny's call and decides to pack up his guns, knives and violent nature and head home to Inishmore and see just how sick his Wee Thomas really is. We know Act II can only get more bloody.
Padraic isn't the only danger on the island. There's also Davey's 16-year-old sister Mairead (Elizabeth Bunch), who's made a name for herself by shooting out the eyeballs of cows with her BB gun. And then there's Christy (Todd Waite), a tall stranger in dark clothes who witnessed the cat's death. All these citizens see honor in violence, and we understand that nothing good awaits Ireland if these are the folks in charge. Indeed, McDonagh's world is populated by soulless idiots who care more for cats than they do for each other. And true to its farcical roots, violence is ridiculously meaningless in this story.
The ending is as fabulous as any that McDonagh has written. And director Gregory Boyd, who does farce better than anyone else in Houston, finds the ridiculousness in every moment this play offers. His cast is strong. Especially good are Tyson and Hearnsberger, the morons who deal with the dead cat — and their own mortality — with the bravery of the very foolish. Hutchinson and Bunch both look the part of twisted terrorists in their tight, dark clothes, and for all their monstrousness, they are appealing. But the strongest performance comes from Doran, whose brief turn as a terrorized drug dealer manages to be both hilarious and horrifying. And while there is certainly not as much meat on the bone of this tale from McDonagh's compellingly perverse imagination as there has been in past production of his work done by the Alley, all the blood should satisfy anyone hungry for more of this great Irish writer's work.