Comedian W.C. Fields was said to have hated working with children and animals, presumably because of their knack for stealing a scene away from hard working actors. That is most definitely the case in Laurel Mill Playhouse’s production of Martin McDonagh’s darkly amusing The Lieutenant of Inishmore, when feline-actor Bones makes his entrance. There has probably never been a more compliant or expressive cat on any stage. The audience hangs on his every move, emitting peals of laughter at one moment, and gasps of fear the next. Bones holds the human audience in his paws. His cameo performance itself is worth the price of admission.
The rest of the production, sadly, proves to be a bit of a mixed bag, though it’s hard to go too far astray with a script that ends with such a proverbial (and literal) bang. McDonagh’s story, set in 1993 Ireland, concerns ruthless INLA fighter-torturer Padraic (Nicholas Hanni), who harbors a soft spot for “Wee Thomas,” his pet kitty. When Padraic returns home to find Wee Thomas killed and mutilated, all hell breaks loose as he unleashes a fury of vengeance upon his family and anyone else suspected of foul play.
Act One is plagued by slow pacing (exasperated by lengthy and unnecessary scene changes) and by actors struggling to achieve the difficult Irish dialect. Across the board, results generally amount to something akin to Dick Van Dyke’s valiant attempt at cockney in Mary Poppins, ranging from serviceable but distracting “Lucky Charms” commercial brogues to the barely intelligible.
Hanni acquits himself well, however, as the violent psychopath with a love for domesticated animals. He captures the dichotomy of his character by bringing a pensive, everyman quality to the role. The standout performance of the night comes from Erin Wagner as tomboy Mairead, Padraic’s unlikely love interest. Wagner’s effortless accent allows her nuanced characterization to take the forefront: a wild-eyed, unpredictable 16 year-old spark plug who is driven to prove herself to Padraic and the INLA at any cost. She creates a mesmerizing portrait of the alternately passionate and cold-hearted youth. Hanni and Wagner infuse life into the production, and scenes between them sizzle with chemistry. If only McDonagh had allotted them more stage time in Act One!
Fortunately, all of the pieces fall into place for Act Two when the blood begins to flow and the body count rises. Director Joshua McKerrow does fine work incorporating blood splatter effects and fight choreography to build momentum to a Pulp Fiction-like fever pitch.
All’s well that ends well! From what began as a slow and plodding journey, the audience is fully energized and primed for the triumphant arrival of Bones The Cat.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore plays through November 24, 2013 at The Laurel Mill Playhouse — 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For reservations, call the box office at (301) 617-9906. Tickets may also be purchased at the door as early as one hour prior to show time.