The Lieutenant of Inishmore Review - AstonRep's production falls short of the script's demands

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh crafts rich and layered texts that are a challenge not only for the reader, but for any theatre artist to breathe full life in to its production. Humor and horror intertwine; twists so unexpected it’s tough to wrestle and pin the plot down. The Lieutenant of Inishmore is no exception: thoroughly Irish, gory, absurd, and oddly tender in rare moments.

Padraic (Wehrman) mid torture.

Padraic (John Wehrman), an estranged, fanatic officer of the Irish National Liberation Army with oodles of rage and inventive torture methods, hears word of his cat/sole friend’s declining constitution and quits Belfast for his native Inishmore. Upon discovering Wee Thomas’ bashed in skull, Padraic’s temper detonates, and he launches into a bloody fun rampage for revenge. Set in the early 1990’s revolution in Northern Ireland, this story demands energy, presence, and a blind resolute to dive into the absurd world of fanatics – AstonRep’s production, unfortunately, just waded in to the waist.

Irish National Liberation Army soldiers.

The majority of the design was good, adequate, served the play: kClareMcKellaston’s costume design contrasted the civilian from the militant – providing a much needed source of humor when the tough-guy look and attitude was compromised by idiotic dialogue between Christy’s (Robert Tobin) goons (Chadwick Sutton and Tim Larson). The lighting design nearly passed favorably, but Samantha Barr’s choice to communicate nighttime with tiny stars all over the stage was too easy, and not an effective choice for this production.  This was also the issue with the sound design by Ray Kasper: I’m not an expert on early 90’s Irish rock, but I do know that “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Flogging Molly is exclusively used for the film, the Departed, and New England sports teams’ commercials. The sound didn’t do anything for the production other than attempt to spice up the halflit, sluggish scene transitions.

Davey &Donny clean up the lovers' work.

Where the production succeeded absolutely was the demanding props design: Jeremiah Barr’s set design was fine – the too bright, by hand paintings of doors, the country of Ireland, and the words “INISHMORE” were out of place – but collecting and designing the sheer amount and specific props was an enormous challenge. Barr crafted and found a torture device to suspend the victim by the ankles, countless guns, skull crushed animals, an era-specific television (which sadly was only used for the preshow, and not for the show), body parts, and top it all off – SPOILER ALERT - a live cat. The props work was really well done, but it could not distract from Derek Bertelsen's messy direction which lead the ensemble astray.

Davey (Matthew Harris, left) & Donny (Scott Olson, right) work on their

Either this production needed more time or a stronger directorial hand: with such an ambitious text the ensemble got lost. The Northern Irish dialect disabled most of the actors, who seemed to memorize the transliterated words of the accent (ex: ‘feck’-fuck; ‘parly’-poorly), lean on the rhythm they learned, and just try to get through it. Much of the actors’ comprehension of the text, and therefore the dramatic climate, wavered, and they frequently slipped back to American. This excludes the INLA trio: Tobin, Sutton, and Larson who held their accents quite well. But this lack of comprehension effected the stage and violence blocking, yielding movement for the sake of movement, which muddled the story’s clarity. The violence was sloppy and obvious: at one point, Mairead (Nora Lise Ulrey) left an empty blood packet responsible for a character’s death in plain view of the audience, next to her victim’s head. This lack of focus was across the board for the ensemble – save the INLA trio. I looked forward to their scenes, the Stooges-like banter, careful timing, embodiment of the fanatic fool characters, and clear understanding grounded them in this world and I believed it. Their conviction and tempo is necessary in the remainder of the play.

Stand off between Padraic & Mairead (Ulrey)

Real Talk: instead of waiting it out through this production, pick up a copy of McDonagh’s lively text for a read, and let your imagination do the work.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore plays at the Raven Theatre West Stage (6157 N Clark St, Chicago), Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3:30pm, from now until November 23. Tickets are $20, but the student/senior/industry/group discounts are $10. Call (773) 828-9129 for tickets, and/or visit the Aston Rep website for more information. 


Photos:  Courtesy of Aston Rep

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