‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ at Maryland Ensemble Theatre

FIVE STARS 82x15
Four dead fellas, two dead cats, a hairstyle ruined, a broken-hearted sister. And all out of shoe polish. The culmination of which resulted in Martin McDonagh’s funniest, darkest comedy to date; all of which can be found as

The Maryland Ensemble Theatre opens their production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Directed by Tad Janes, the gory black comedy has audiences rolling in the aisles, if they can just avoid the blood splatter. The quintessential Martin McDonagh play must include various representations of the Irish locale, the biggest of all being the creative team’s choice of music and soundscape. Sound Designer Tom Majarov uses upbeat songs from Irish rock bands, like Flogging Molly, to accelerate the pace of the scene changes and drive intensity into the uproarious production. Another signature element of McDonagh’s work is the continual shift from indoor to outdoor locations.

Set Designer Eric Berninghausen creates functional and aesthetically simplistic versatility in these transitory locations. Having the interior of Donny’s house existing beside the docks of the isle’s coast but succeeding in making them two separate entities is an impressive accomplishment in the MET’s unique space.

Padriac (l- Jeff Keilholtz) and James (r- Colin Boteler). Photo by Joe Williams.

Padriac (l- Jeff Keilholtz) and James (r- Colin Boteler). Photo by Joe Williams.

Conceptually the blood, guts, and gore of this production are so important that Director Tad Janes set not one person to the task of special effects, but composed a team of four creative minds to really get the essence of ‘bloody drama’ underway. The Special Effects Team—Doug Grove, Katie Rattigan, Brian Artusio, and Jon Paul Duvall— handles a series of gunshots, blood splatter, and overall grotesque violence that results in hilarious calamity. Without spoiling some of the fantastic efforts the team has crafted into the production, it is best to state that their efforts pack a powerful punch, and are awash in the element of surprise.

Director Tad Janes keeps the play really moving, though the pacing falls out of synch on the odd occasion. The first dialogue exchange between Davey and Donny in the opening scene is so fast that some of the exchange is missed. Future encounters between these two characters drag a bit in their pacing in a compensatory effort to recapture some of their banter. Otherwise the scenes feel natural and Janes’ keen approach to black comedy and its delivery is spot on. It is important to maintain the integrity of local color in a Martin McDonagh play; and while Janes does an exceptional job of making sure everyone has something very close to an Irish accent, the accents executed throughout the production take the audience on an aural train trek across the islands, through the United Kingdom, with a pit-stop in Canada, and all over the region. It creates an intriguing sense of un-discussed back story for these characters.

With exceptional mastery of his very natural sounding Irish accent, Donny (Bob Herbertson) delivers a great deal of McDonagh’s cleverly crafted zippy dialogue. Herbertson has a mild temperament in his portrayal of Donny so that when there are moments of charged intensity, he comes across with a bit of bombacity and flare. It’s mostly his interactions with Davey (Matt Lee) that keep the humor rolling in his scenes. Lee, as the thick-skulled, dim-witted hippy-esque character, makes a convincing case for his character’s stupidity; furthering the hilarity that ensues between the battle of insults and wit with Herbertson’s character.

Christy (Jack Evans) has a frightening intensity to his existence. It’s not just the eye-patch that makes Evans terrifying; his cold and calculated anger seething through his verbal delivery, reverberating in his posture when he sets himself to task. Evans has vivid facial expressions that really explode during moments of ferocious emotional outbursts, particularly when engaging in spats with Brendan (Joe Jalette.)

Mairead (Caitlyn Joy) follows the McDonagh archetype of sassy lass, only this one happens to tote an air-riffle. Joy has a stunning singing voice that is featured several times throughout the production; rather sweet and solemn, which serves as a dynamic parallel to her roguish tomboy nature. With a mouth like the gun she slings, her insults fly with fury from her fire-loaded lips; she won’t be messin’ about with the likes of any man who don’t know their place. The curiously intense chemistry that builds between her and Padraic (Jeff Keilholtz) is a fascinating thing to watch unfold, especially as the show rages toward its insane conclusion.

Padraic (Jeff Keilholtz) and his kitty. Photo by Joe Williams.

Padraic (Jeff Keilholtz) and his kitty. Photo by Joe Williams.

Keilholtz, in the title role, brings a brilliantly spastic portrayal to the stage. Balancing his absolutely horrific and violent side with a simpering sentimentality, Keilholtz creates an impeccable juxtaposition of strength and frailty in this character. Wrapping the whole entity of Padraic up in the off-kilter madness of a man on a mission, Keilholtz makes each of his emotional moments— whether they are outbursts of rage or dropping moments of tears for Wee Thomas— illuminate from a place deep within his being. There is a pulsating darkness that drives his character; Keilholtz creates an exceptionally compelling character for the audience to enjoy. Or sympathize with. Or hate.

Leave your cats at home, they cause enough trouble in this production. Just make sure you don’t let them wander out too long while you’re at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre enjoying their production of or you might just find trouble waiting for you when you return home.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore plays through May 4, 2014 at The Maryland Ensemble Theatre—31 West Patrick Street in historic Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744, or purchase them online.

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