Studded with standout performances, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” written by Martin McDonagh and directed by Patrick Williams for the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, features funny characters, acerbic dialogue, outlandish predicaments, and prodigious comic timing. Little wonder that, gore, viscera, and body parts aside, the audience was in stitches.
To abstract the plot – An Irish terrorist gets lured home for assassination by the group he splintered from – is to miss the production’s potent comic-violent “Pulp Fiction” texture, which in turn animates the pointless violence that describes The Irish Question.
At the onset, suspense drove the production. Will Padraic (Patrick Rieger) will be killed by his former colleagues-in-terror, Christy (Arber Mehmeti), Brendan (Topher Mauerhan), and Joey (Mark Coyan)? To lure him home, they killed his only friend in the world, a cat named Wee Thomas, cared for by his father Donny (John Gilbert) and neighbor Davey (Devon Armstrong), brother of Mairead (Jannese Davidson). Along the way we wonder if a love interest might develop between Padraic and Mairead. The climax we see, though, is not the climax we expect, not by a long shot.
The story’s violent, as befits the tragic skirmishes of Irish Home Rule and the psychotic mindset of terrorists. But farce trumps violence so, by the end, when bodies are being disassembled, the dialogue sounds as prosaic as that of a couple washing dishes. When’s the last time you laughed so hard at jellied cat brains, slimy body parts, and blood splatters?
The acting captivated us as much as it made us laugh. With a muscular, tough guy presence and a voice and movement that described a mind about to derail, Rieger made Padraic both bad-ass maniacal and aw-shucks tender. He doesn’t think twice when he removes a foe’s body parts and yet he goes to pieces when he learns that Wee Thomas is dead.
As conflicted as Padraic, Davidson’s Mairead doesn’t think twice when she blinds cows and would-be assassins with her pellet gun. Yet she sings like an angel and gets dewy when she’s next to Padraic. She is a perfect match for Rieger: he was tall, she was short, she was lovey-dovey, and he only had eyes for Wee Thomas. If not for an unfortunate misunderstanding, they would have made a murderous Bonnie and Clyde splinter group of a splinter group of a splinter group.
Mere words on a page cannot explain what Gilbert and Armstrong bring to Donny and Davey. Like Ralph and Alice Kramden in “The Honeymooners,” they created comic magic: their bickers, their double crosses, their inadvertent and intimate knowledge of each other made them feel like an old married couple.
Over the top violent? Yes. Tragic? Yes. But, as this production shows, what better way to pound home the senselessness of tit for tat sectarian violence than by showing it as it really is: absurd.
Performances are 8 PM, Fri & Sat, 2PM, Sun. The show runs until Feb. 12. Tickets are $12-22. The Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. For more info call 494-1014 or visit www.lbplayhouse.org.