Bloodbath and Beyond
Chris Pine plays Padraic, an impassioned member of the Irish National Liberation Army, who dispenses his own brand of justice to drug dealer James (Brett Ryback) in The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - If you don’t find humor in the juxtaposition of a quaint “Home Sweet Home” plaque hanging over two daft Irishmen inspecting a dead cat — its brains oozing onto a wood shack floor — then the following two hours of The Lieutenant of Inishmore are going to feel interminable.

But there’s a good chance that even feline aficionados will laugh at the absurdity that is Martin McDonagh’s 2006 Tony-nominated black farce, appearing at the Mark Taper Forum through Aug. 8. The game-for-anything ensemble cast, and seamless direction by Wilson Milam, fills the stage with sights and sounds that are as disturbing as they are funny. Much of it is unforgettable.

McDonagh’s best-known work is not a play, but the well received film In Bruges. His love of tightly conceived plots and blood-soaked comedy often draws comparisons to Quentin Tarantino. But McDonagh’s humor doesn’t come from Tarantino’s hipster take on life. Instead, his version stems from a pervasive naïveté that makes even the most despicable characters — Padraic, for example — almost lovable.

Padraic (Star Trek’s Chris Pine) breeds destruction. Deemed too mad even for the Irish Republican Army, he fights with a splinter group, the Irish National Liberation Army. We meet Padraic in mid-torture, in a fine mood while pulling off the toenails of James (Brett Ryback), a drug dealer. Then he receives a call from his dad Donny (Séan G. Griffin), who tells his son that his cat Wee Thomas — Padraic’s only friend in the world — is doing poorly.

Padraic’s cries of anguish and urgency to return home (an appropriately sad, dilapidated abode designed by Laura Fine Hawkes) allude to how he will react after discovering that Wee Thomas isn’t doing poorly, but is dead. Wee Thomas was found in the road by young Davey (Coby Getzug), who swears he discovered the cat in that condition. Davey’s 16-year-old sister, Mairead (Zoe Perry), a tomboy with a popgun and a desire to fight for Northern Irish independence, doesn’t believe him, though she’s glad to hear that Padraic will soon arrive.

The remaining oddballs in Inishmore are a trio of INLA members who have some issues with Padraic’s terrorist activities.

While McDonagh uses the historical roots of rampant violence that have come out of Northern Ireland’s fight against British rule (the Taper’s program contains a primer on that history), he makes no pretense that Inishmore is realistic. This is old school comedy, if the Marx Brothers were killing cats and shooting people instead of throwing pies.

Dialogue is mostly in the form of non-stop arguments, which lead to some of the best lines. For example, when Donny admits to trampling his mom, but exclaims that it was in the distant past, Padraic snaps, “There’s no statute of limitations against mam trampling!”

Pine is an inspired choice in the title role. His leading man looks and charisma make Padraic’s lunatic ramblings seem even funnier. His near constant smile, except when he’s crying over his cat, shows a man who enjoys chaos, and who considers killing a part of everyday life.

Perry is spirited as Mairead, Padraic’s unexpected love interest (McDonagh makes no comment on her being 16), who can shoot out a cow’s eyes at 60 yards, while also being reduced to tears when told she’s not pretty.

But the story’s heart, if there is such a thing, is the duo of young Davey and old Donny, emphatically played by Getzug and Griffin. Lackadaisical and wanting nothing but to be left alone, they instead are thrust into the fray of blood and guts, until, almost pleading with the audience, Davey laments, “Worse and worse and worse this story gets.”

Milam, who also helmed the Broadway and West End productions, treats every scene almost as individual vignettes, with strong through lines and increasing tension leading to each blackout. Gradually ramping up the wildness still may not prepare viewers for the final scene, which thanks to special effects by Matthew Mungle and Waldo Warshaw is exceedingly shocking.

Americans probably can’t fully grasp Inishmore’s socio-political backdrop, but everyone understands the adage that violence begets more violence. As crazy as it seems, viewing the carnage through McDonagh’s lens turns the horrific into the hysterical.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore runs through Aug. 8 at 135 N. Grand Ave., (213) 972-4400 or

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