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Eight-year-old Constellation Theatre Company is sponsoring both a blood drive and a pet adoption fair in the next five days—carbon offsets, so to speak, for the ravages of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, British-Irish enfant terrible Martin McDonagh’s blood-soaked, kitty-littered 2001 farce. That’s “kitty-littered” as in littered with dead cats, although littered might be extravagant given that they’re handily outnumbered by the dead humans. No real kitties were harmed, so far as I could tell, during the performance I saw (nor humans, probably). The pair of live cats who made cameo appearances did not look at all delighted to be there despite the enthusiastic applause they got.
A ‘90s-set parody of violent extremism—if such a thing can be subjected to parody—this yarn concerns a sociopathic member of an Irish National Liberation Army splinter group who interrupts his principled torture of a Belfast pot dealer to rush home to Galway when he receives word his cat, Wee Thomas, has taken ill. Wee Thomas’s prognosis is rather worse than that, it turns out: Slick, lumpy fragments of what I think are meant to be his brain are spilling out of prop designer Sarah Conte’s feline dummy when Chris Dinolfo’s Davey carries it onstage. He knows whose cat it is that’s leaking effluvia all over him, and he’s just smart enough to fear its owner’s wrath.
Inishmore is not the most existentially disquieting of McDonagh’s plays, but physically it’s the gnarliest: On the occasion of its U.S. premiere in New York nine years ago, the Washington Post’s David Segal filed a piece about the logistical challenges of mixing the prodigious quantities of stage blood demanded for each performance and of mopping it all up during the brief interval between matinee and evening shows. Constellation’s production, directed by Faction of Fools founder Matthew R. Wilson, rises to the the occasion with some expertly timed blood-spatter effects (designed by Casey Kaleba, who also collaborated with Wilson on the fight choreography) but turns down the volume: There’s more viscera sloshing around inside an adorable kitty cat or a human skull shot point-blank with a high-caliber revolver than that, you might find yourself saying, if you’re a particularly attentive student of shoot-’em-ups. (Hi!)
Still, you’d have to be a particularly ungenerous sicko to come away from this Inishmore disappointed, given its terrific central pair of performances: Broad, barrel-chested Thomas Keegan (doing a note-perfect imitation of frequent McDonagh collaborator Colin Farrell’s squeaky Dublin brogue) as Padraic, the sadistic nutter, and elfin Megan Dominy as Mairead, a 16-year-old pellet-gun sniper who advocates for animal rights by shooting cows’ eyes out so they can’t be sold. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, is the expression I would use if this were not a play wherein an outbreak of cat-skinning feels distinctly likely, if not inevitable.
Don’t worry: We’re treated to a protracted human-limb-removal sequence instead. Exhausting work, particularly if you’ve only got regular-old consumer-grade tools and kitchen cutlery to work with.
Q: Okay, but how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? A: Funny! ‘Tis, as I say, a farce, wherein Padraic’s aged father, Donny (Mark Lee Adams), and his flunky Davey (Dinolfo), try to delay Padraic’s discovery of Wee Thomas’ demise for as long as possible, while a trio of Padraic’s former comrades in the movement try to get the drop on him. Padraic’s barbaric methods are giving Irish terrorism a bad name, so he’s got to go.
When it isn’t indulging in Grand Guignol bloodletting, Inishmore is another platform for McDonagh’s Tarantino-esque love of myopic outlaws and scholarly impatience with common language. There’s nothing like genuine human feeling on display here; it’s just a high-toned Looney Tune, and it delights in absurdity and punishment in the same way those classic cartoons do. When Dominy’s underage Mairead comes on to Keegan’s Padraic, she wonders if his reluctance is because he prefers boys.
“There are no boy-preferrers involved in Irish terrorism!” he recoils. Neil Patrick Harris’ Academy Awards bit with Selma star David Oyelowo bombed, but he wasn’t wrong: A lot of lines really are funnier with an accent.
1835 14th St. NW. (202) 204-7741. constellationtheatre.org