Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wee Thomas's Army

This week I went out to Berkeley Rep to see their production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Even though I love Martin McDonagh, I wasn't originally planning to see this show, until a friend invited me on the spur of the moment. I'd already seen Lieutenant of Inishmore when it was on Broadway, and in general I'd rather spend my money to see a play I've never seen before, than to see a second production of a play I'm already familiar with. Especially when it's a play that doesn't vary a lot in the interpretation, as McDonagh's works tend not to--I mean, any Shakespeare play allows for multiple good stagings that do not resemble one another in the least, but I would think that all good productions of Lieutenant of Inishmore would basically resemble one another.

One reason it was good to see Lieutenant of Inishmore again is because I wasn't an ideal audience member when I saw it the first time. That was in the summer of 2006, on a day when I had flown to New York on a red-eye from Portland that morning, met a whole lot of new people (my fellow winners of the Young Playwright's contest, plus the contest's organizers), run around the city all day... So as I sat up in the balcony of the Lyceum Theater that night, watching the play, I alternated between thinking "This is fecking amazing!" and "I can barely keep my eyes open!" Yes, even though Lieutenant has a lot of stuff to rivet your attention--a tight plot and structure, McDonagh's great dialogue, plenty of gunfire and gore--I missed parts of it due to my own tiredness. And I appreciated getting to experience it as a complete work of art at the Berkeley Rep on Tuesday.

As I said, I think all good productions of this play are going to substantially resemble one another--but that's not to fault it as a work of art. In fact, it made me realize again the control that McDonagh has over his material, and his skill at creating memorable images as well as memorable dialogue--when the lights come up to reveal a shirtless James hanging upside-down by his ankles, for instance, or the visual contrast of the girl with short hair and the boy with long hair.

One major difference I noticed between the two productions was in the character of Davey, the aforementioned boy with long hair. Davey is none too bright and none too brave, and a lot of the laughs in the play come at his expense. On Broadway, he was portrayed by the tall and gangly Domhnall Gleeson, who "reads" as several years older than Adam Farabee, who played the role in Berkeley. Gleeson's Davey came across as being maybe 20 years old--close to Padraic's age, and certainly older than his 16-year-old sister, Mairead. He also wore an intentionally silly costume that included a Motörhead T-shirt and a ridiculous headband. The effect of all of this was to make Davey a real moron--a character whom it was easy to laugh at, but hard to identify with. Farabee, though, comes across as being about 15 years old--thus, Mairead's put-upon kid brother rather than her stupid older brother. And while his red wig was decidedly silly, he had no headband and wore a plain white T-shirt, the better to show the eventual bloodstains. Therefore, while Davey was still pretty dumb (I mean, you're never going to get around the fact that he loves the smell of shoe polish), his stupidity was more forgivable, because you saw that he was just a terrified 15-year-old kid underneath, rather than a too-dumb-to-live 20-year-old. I just can't decide what's the better approach to his character, now: to give him this more rounded and human dimension, or to make him into a mocking caricature like many of the other inhabitants of McDonagh-land?

Photo: James Carpenter as Donny and Adam Farabee as Davey. (credit:

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