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Rough justice

The Lieutenant of Inishmore; How Many Miles to Basra?; Legally Blonde the Musical
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  November 5, 2008

THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE: Hammering its audacious juxtaposition of savagery, mawkishness, and sheer stupidity like a stake through a vampire’s heart.

Except that it's a black farce, not a tragedy, you could call The Lieutenant of Inishmore Martin McDonagh's Titus Andronicus. The 2002 Olivier Award winner and 2006 Tony nominee, which is getting its area premiere from New Repertory Theatre (at Arsenal Center for the Arts through November 16), is so rife with mutilation and dismemberment that you might as well direct it with a Cuisinart. Faced with similarly poetical mayhem in the Bard's Titus, David R. Gammons, who won an Elliot Norton Award for his staging, spilled not one jot of stage blood. Now we know why; he was saving it up! Gammons's production of Inishmore sets the largest Aran Island afloat in a bucket of plasma: it gushes like Old Faithful and splatters like Jackson Pollock.

Not that a pristine and stylized staging of McDonagh's 1990s-set wild Irish bloodbath would work. The play's perverse comedy lies in its mix of Grand Guignol and abject sentimentality among a gang of political terrorists who can't think, much less shoot, straight. In Janie E. Howland's design, it opens in a squat hovel backed by cartoon rocks and a large "Home Sweet Home" sampler. In the house, a couple of dimwits bend over the corpse of a cat that's missing most of its head and dripping innards. "Do you think he's dead, Donny?" the effeminate younger one asks his scruffy older counterpart. Afraid so, guys, and the crude assassination of Wee Thomas, beloved pet of Irish National Liberation Army loose cannon Mad Padraic, will unleash a concatenation of carnage worthy of the Greeks — if, say, the entire population of Thebes had been subject to a lobotomy.

McDonagh, the author of the creepier if less gruesome The Pillowman, and the Leenane trilogy, does mean to make a point about the numbing mindlessness of sectarian violence. But the play hammers its audacious juxtaposition of savagery, mawkishness, and sheer stupidity like a stake through a vampire's heart. Padraic, who was deemed too unstable for the IRA, has splintered from a splinter group, which has lured him back from a tour abroad trying to detonate chip shops and torture drug dealers by axing his only, if feline, friend. Seems this trio of cat-battering patriots have it in for Padraic because of his persecution of pushers, at least one of whom had funded their operation — until Padraic cut his nose off and fed it to a dog (which choked, causing the sort of outrage here evoked only by cruelty to critters). With so much violence afoot, there's little room for sex. But don't tell that to 16-year-old Mairûad, a militant if boyish colleen whose crush on Padraic comes in handy.

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