EXTRAVAGANT CARNAGE The Mad Horse cast are brutally alive.
You can't say that Padraic (Dave Currier) is a man without a heart. If he weren't such a nice guy, he tells a strung-up pot dealer, he would have pulled one toenail from each of his feet, instead of two from the same foot. He also loves his cat something fierce. Thus the general moral and emotional m.o. at play in Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which has been aptly compared to the works of Tarantino for its shock-fest of gore and violence. And in a gleefully sanguinary, bracingly acted production directed by Christine Marshall, Mad Horse pulls no punches with the black-comic terrorism of Padraic.
While he's off on bombing and torture errands for the Irish National Liberation Army (a violent Marxist splinter group forced out of the official IRA), his dad Donny (Tony Reilly, both funny and poignant) and a flannel-sheathed young fuck-up named Davey (a frenetic Erik Moody) are back home in Inishmore stricken with pure mortal terror: Laid out on the table of Donny's shabby little house (its walls covered with crooked Jesuses and seeping with brown, in Stacey Kowalski's fine design) is the mangled black corpse of Padraic's precious cat, Wee Thomas. In the face of the homecoming of Currier's haunted, vertiginous Padraic, Donny and Davey quite reasonably fear a world of pain. Meanwhile, Davey's revolutionary sister Mairead (Jessica Fratus, stridently), who wears camo and shoots out cows' eyes with a pop-gun to protest capitalism and practice her aim, has a huge crush on Padraic; there's also the one-eyed Christy (Burke Brimmer) and his flunkies (Johnny Speckman and Nate Speckman, slyly funny, and it's a treat to see them cast together) who have an interest in him, too.
Call it black slapstick. The show's premise and general ethos are outrageous, cartoonish, and aggressively ironic from the get-go, as Moody's jittery mullet-punk manhandles various parts of the headless cat corpse. Soon thereafter comes a flashily produced, sort of pop-gore overture to a torture scene, with red lights, industrial music, and scary plastic sheets snatched from around the poor bloody-footed pot-dealer hanging from a rack (Jordan William, with wit and a very nimble abdomen). I would be spoiling the suspense and main raison d'être of the play to reveal more about the extent of its corporeal atrocities and of SFX designer Eric Anderson's expert renderings, so suffice it to say that this is not a show for the faint of stomach. If last season's Killer Joe showed you more than is your wont of gun wounds, you'll want to sit this one out.
Lieutenant's extravagant carnage is its featured attraction, though there are some clever bits of writing in here, which Marshall's cast handle savvily. "Do you know how many cats Oliver Cromwell killed in his time?" quips Christy in justification of his own methods, calling up oldest Irish history and rage to rationalize his sorry, absurd brutality. It's this terrible absurdity, the ludicrous irony in the perpetuation of violence, that is McDonagh's larger point.
And it's one that he bludgeons. As the savagery mounts, McDonagh seems less interested in elaborating on this idea — which is certainly a worthy one — than in making each bodily mutilation more imaginative and over-the-top than the last. This is to say that the show makes a spectacle of violence, with the squeamish thrills of a horror flick.