The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a Bloody Mess

jennifer matthies and the cat
There is a line in Martin McDonagh’s play The Lieutenant of Inishmore where the only female character, Mairead, says: “I thought killing men would be fun, but it’s dull.” When this line was uttered in the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre on Saturday Night, I felt as though she could have been speaking in general about Rep 21’s production, which plays there until December 12th, 2009.
Rep 21 is a theatre company comprised of the acting alumni of Canadore College’s new Theatre Arts Program in North Bay, so I had different expectations than I would from a production made up of seasoned, professional actors. That being said, I had my introduction to McDonagh at Dalhousie University, when an amateur, student organization called the Kings Theatre Society, made up primarily of students who were not in the Acting Program of the school, produced The Pillowman. It was one of the most gripping (and terrifying) pieces of theatre I had ever seen. It seems as though McDonagh’s language and his twisted sense of humor had the potential to resonate well with the unbridled testosterone and exuberance of fresh, young and raw performers. Unfortunately all that worked so well for the KTS was utterly absent in Rep 21’s production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
What makes The Pillowman less problematic for students than The Lieutenant of Inishmore is that the actors do not need to grapple with Irish accents. Each of the actors in Rep 21’s production struggled to varying degrees with his/her accent. For some it came and went, for some it sounded a wee bit Scottish or like they were visiting from Gander, Newfoundland but in all, the inconsistent accents were uniformly distracting and continually pulled me out of the story. The worst was the cast’s use of the word “feck.” McDonagh presumably writes the word “feck” in his script in attempt to capture the way the word “fuck” sounds when spoken in an Irish accent, and he has his characters use the word with absurd frequency. However, only Benjamin Clost (as Joey) was able to use this word effectively, for the rest of the cast it sounded like all the characters were going around talking about “flecks” and the word had zero of its much needed intensity and vulgarity.
Indeed, a lack of intensity and vulgarity was the major problem that I had with this production. Martin McDonagh wrote The Lieutenant of Inishmore as an extreme black comedy, fraught with gory violence and an absurdity similar to the plays of Beckett and Brecht, highlighting vividly the futility of war and terrorism from within an Ireland ravaged by both. McDonagh constructs his play in a very conventional way, building the tension among his characters toward a climax which heightens at the end of the First Act and the inevitable doom hits shortly after Intermission. Yet, in this production, there was no tension, there was no intensity, there was no impending sense of doom or of fear because the actors had a languid sense of pacing coupled with a penchant to try to exaggerate the comedy that McDonagh has cleverly woven into his text, which drained it of all of its subtly and most of its humor. Despite the fact that The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a comedy, it should still pack a powerful punch: it should be crisp, and meticulously timed, it should be gripping, disturbing, acrid and biting without giving the audience a moment to breathe, let alone the opportunity for boredom or dullness.
I was most disappointed with Jennifer Matthies’ Mairead because Mairead is an intensely interesting character, and in Matthies’ hands what should have been a tough, strong, passionate, vibrant, aggressive, sadistic, eerie, utterly unstable, feisty, brazen sassy revolutionary turned into a doe-eyed, sappy, dopey, lovesick, immature girl who threw the occasional violent temper tantrum and who seemed incapable of being the strong, independent woman who would be willing to kill a man to defend her ideals. Matthew Krist’s Paidric was completely devoid of charm or chemistry, which deflated what should have been an equally impassioned and scorching relationship between him and Mairead as well.
In all, I feel like the Rep 21 cast has just scratched the surface of what this play can be. They have fantastic props and special effects by Clayton Windatt, they have the early stages of Irish accents, and a fundamental understanding of the text, these complex characters and Martin McDonagh’s intentions for this piece. Yet, it could all benefit from a strong dose of intensity and a little more integrity.
At the end of the play, one of the actors comes out with a real black cat, and when I saw the production, this cat could not have been more unhappy to be onstage. It hissed repeatedly, it glared and glowered at both the actors and the audience. The cat was filled with enough rage and suppressed wrath to attack with its claws and its teeth at any moment. It was a loose cannon. It was biding its time waiting to pounce. I think the rest of the cast could learn a lot about the arcs of their characters in this play if they examined the behaviour of this cat. It was only onstage for a moment, but its “performance” was the most gripping one I saw in the play.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre (Downstairs) 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto until December 12th, 2009. For more information and for tickets please call 416.368.3110 or visit www.canstage.com

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