Sunday, November 02, 2014

Bloody Feckin' Brilliant: Despite Diminished Shock Value, Martin McDonagh's 'The Lieutenant of Inishmore' Still Slays 'Em in the Aisles -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Lieutenant of Inishmore
A play by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Derek Bertelsen
Presented by AstonRep Theater Company
at the Raven Theatre Complex
Through November 23

I have far too much direct familiarity with the scourge of Alzheimer's disease to ever make real light of memory loss.

But while I hope the--at times, rapid--erosion of certain recollections never reaches true senility nor Guy Pearce in Memento levels, in some ways I think my far-from-photographic memory works in my favor.

For it's not like I can't recall numerous bits of personal trivia--like my best friend's phone number from about 1974 to 1985--or cherished places of yore, such as the gelato cafe next to the Rialto Bridge in Venice that I ate at in 2002.

And off the top of my head, I think I can still recite every city and venue in which I've seen Bruce Springsteen in concert, 44 times.

But if you asked if the Boss played "Thunder Road" at the Cleveland show (at Quicken Loans Arena) in November 2007, I honestly have no clue without looking it up. (He didn't.)

That may not seem like a big deal, but in having gone to a White Sox game vs. the Royals this past September 25--which preceded a rather special run by the Royals--I can't recall the score of the game, or even who won. I just know Paul Konerko didn't play.

And while I've seen thousands of movies, unless I've seen any rather recently or repeatedly, my recall of plot details or dialogue would be sketchy at best. There are several movies I've seen in 2014 for which my recollection is quite vague.

This goes for theater as well.

Forget the musicals, or don't, as the songs typically stick with me (at least from the great ones), but of more than 250 different plays I've seen in the 21st century, I would really have a hard time giving you the specifics of any.

But, long-term repercussions notwithstanding, I see this as a good thing, as I can see something again and like it anew.

I keep a database of every show I see (concert, musical, play, opera, etc.) complete with the main performers and a quality rating.

And while I'm happy to think others may read and enjoy what I write on this blog--whether close friends or strangers around the world--especially given the dearth of personal memory, I'm glad there is a qualitative record of virtually every performance I've seen over the past 5 years, just for my own reference.

Anyway, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a play by the gifted Irish writer Martin McDonagh, who is now still only 44. He wrote it, along with a slew of other plays in the mid-90s, but it wasn't staged until 2001 and hit Broadway in 2006.

It is currently running in Chicago at the Raven Theatre Complex on North Clark Street, in a production by the AstonRep Theatre Company, whose version of Wit I absolutely loved earlier this year.

I had seen Inishmore once before--in a Northlight Theatre production I found fantastic--but without looking it up couldn't have told you it was in 2009, nor that I had written a brief review I had posted here.

Although I began Seth Saith in 2004, it wasn't until December 2009 that I started maintaining it regularly after a run of "Best of the Decade" posts. These included "My Favorite Plays of the '00s" on which The Lieutenant of Inishmore ranked 5th.

I've also seen and liked--many tremendously--most of McDonagh's other major plays, including The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Pillowman. (I also like his film, In Bruges, but not so much Seven Psychopaths.)

So a confluence of factors brought me to the Raven on Saturday night with my friend Bob, including that though I knew I really enjoyed it, enough time had passed since seeing The Lieutenant of Inishmore that I fully expected it to delight me anew.

And in many ways it did.

It is still one of rather few works of any kind--including stand-up routines by several of history's most revered comedians--that makes me laugh out loud. And it did so again.

But not quite as much as the first time, as though many of the plot details were forgotten enough to feel fresh, some of the craziest parts had stuck with me and didn't shock as on the initial viewing.

So while I realize this is yet another review that tells the reader almost nothing about the show I'm reviewing, I feel it best for anyone who may see The Lieutenant of Inishmore--ever, though this production is entirely worth your time and at most $20, with discounts possible through HotTix and Goldstar--for me to reveal as few of the specifics as possible.

I'll simply say that is a black comedy that involves an Irish terrorist, a dead cat, a lot of blood and much other mayhem and madness onstage. Unless you're a complete tight-ass, it should make you frequently bust a gut, but as you're watching it you may not quite understand what it's all about or why some call it brilliant.

Yet, although akin to David Mamet's, McDonagh's language may not seem all that distinctive and revolutionary now, it truly was compared to almost everything else on theatrical stages in the mid-90s, which is why no one would produce it until years later.

And, thankfully, "the Troubles" in Ireland aren't nearly as commonplace (at least as news) as they had been, so the genius of McDonagh's satire and rebuke may not hit audiences today--and in America--quite as hard.

Nonetheless, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is one of those plays whose brilliance doesn't really reveal itself until after it's over.

Though it didn't quite feel like the first time--and it's possible Northlight's was just a better production--I'm glad I forgot it enough to love it anew.

Certainly it helped that AstonRep's cast--under the direction of Derek Bertelsen, who also directed Wit and a wonderful version of The Children's Hour for Pride Films & Plays early this year--was terrific throughout.

John Wehrman makes a madly malevolent Padraic in the best sense, Matthew Harris is great fun as Davey and Nora Lise Ulrey--who won a Jeff Award for her wonderful supporting role in The Children's Hour--is also superb here as Mairead, something of an aspiring teenage Bonnie to Padraic's Clyde, though it's not a perfectly parallel analogy. Scott Olson is also gleefully sardonic as Donny.

So for bargain prices, this is most definitely a rendition worth seeing and--hopefully--remembering.

For even if the narrative plot points once again fade, The Lieutenant of Inishmore should long stick with me, as will its stature--along with Doubt, Proof, August: Osage County and McDonagh's own The Pillowman--as one of the very best plays of the early 21st century.

And undoubtedly, the funniest.

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