I DON'T DOUBT there are any number of ways to interpret The Lieutenant of Inishmore—smart ways, profound ways, ways brimming with symbolism and nuance. Or you can look at it this way: It's a play in which a bloody giblet of innard falls, with a soft thunk, out of a dead cat's mouth; a play in which a shirtless man dangles from the ceiling, preparing to have one of his nipples sliced off with a straight razor; and a play in which two men clumsily hack their way through a bloody pile of splintering bone and slippery intestine.
Or maybe I'm being dense—maybe with Inishmore, those two viewpoints aren't mutually exclusive.
Those familiar with playwright Martin McDonagh's fantastic work—he wrote The Pillowman, The Lonesome West, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane before winning an Oscar for his short film Six Shooter and scoring a Best Original Screenplay nomination for In Bruges—might write off Inishmore as being more lightweight than his other stuff. They're probably right; particularly in Artists Repertory Theatre's production, Inishmore plays like a dark-hearted farce, its broad slapstick butting against pitch-black comedy. From its first scene, the audience is forced to stare at the play's gruesomely comic central problem: a dead cat. The loutish Donny (a great Todd Van Voris) was tasked with taking care of Wee Thomas, the beloved feline of his volatile son Padraic (Thomas Stroppel), a particularly violent member of the Irish National Liberation Army. Yet here Wee Thomas lies, with half his head missing, having been found by a local jackass, Davey (Nathan Crosby). While Donny and Davey scheme to keep the news from the unstable Padraic, Padraic grows ever closer, and Davey's sister, Mairead (Ileana Herrin), dreams backward dreams of revolution and romance.
As Inishmore's slightly likeable, slightly stupid characters careen about, ranting about Wee Thomas and righteous terrorist bombings, it takes awhile for director Jon Kretzu and his cast to find a tone that fits McDonagh's tricky humor. But after a cleverly staged intermission, Inishmore kicks into gear: gore begins to splatter in earnest; Padraic stomps about with a gun in each hand, raising the stakes; and Donny and Davey's bumbling grows ever more futile. Farce? Yes. But it's a clever one, a jarring one, and, most importantly, a genuinely funny one.