THEATER REVIEW: “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” unleashes black humor at its darkest

If the mention of a dead cat at the beginning of a play doesn’t make you move immediately to the next article, you’re the audience ion theatre is looking for.

It’s not just felines that get poor treatment in Martin McDonagh’s black (and I do mean black, but surprisingly not bleak) comedy “The Lieutenant Of Inishmore,” playing through April 9 at ion’s BLK BOX theatre in Hillcrest.

Claudio Raygoza directs a terrific cast in this farcical, Quentin Tarantinoesque splatter fest, which provokes guilty laughter even as it makes you squirm.

The setting is 1993 on the Irish island of Inishmore. The IRA is wreaking havoc and has spawned splinter groups including the INLA (who seem a little unclear on the concept). And 17-year-old Davey (Ryan Kidd) has brought the remains of Wee Thomas the cat to Donny (Walter Ritter), father of the cat’s owner Padraic (Kyle Sorrell).

INLA member “Mad Padraic” (deemed too violent for the IRA) is off saving Ireland by bombing chip shops (because police barracks are heavily guarded).

Padraic also likes to torture drug dealers (though as he says he wouldn’t bother them if they’d sell only to Protestants). In fact, right now he’s got one named James (Evan Kendig) strung up by the feet.

He’s already removed two toenails (“from the same foot, so you only have to limp on one side”) and is about to slice off a nipple when Donny calls to tell Padraic the cat is “poorly” (he too fears his son’s temper, especially when he finds out the cat is dead). Padraic is distracted enough to cut the victim loose while he plans a trip home.

The cast also includes three terrorist blokes – Christy (Mike Jensen), Brendan (Reed Willard) and Joey (Josh Adams) – up to no good, and Davey’s 16-year-old sister Mairead (Morgan Trant).

Reminiscent of Anybody’s in “West Side Story,” Mairead has a crush on Padraic, wants to be part of the INLA, and can put out the eyes of a cow at 60 paces with her airgun (which she does, in the name of vegetarianism).

This second installment in McDonagh’s Aran Island trilogy (the others are “The Cripple of Inishmaan” and the never-produced “Banshees of Inisheer”) will have you guffawing – however guiltily – at the loopy antics and twisted reasoning of this gang of terrorists, who think nothing of maiming and murdering humans, but are brought to tears by a dead cat.

Ion has a terrific cast. Ritter outdoes himself as Donny, wacky but somehow also wise as the father of the unstable Padraic (wonderfully portrayed by the welcome newcomer Sorrell). Trant is a kick as the tomboyish but lovestruck Mairead. And the trio of terrorists: Jensen, Adams and Willard are all amusingly quirky. Kendig even manages to be funny when hanging upside-down.

McDonagh is a hard sell to folks who see no farcical possibilities in murder or mayhem, but Tarantino fans and those who think terrorism an idiotic endeavor are advised to get those tickets now.

The details

“The Lieutenant From Inishmore” runs through April 9 at ion theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinee Saturday at 4 p.m.

For tickets, call (619) 600-5020 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.