Laurel Mill Playhouse is proving just how many stage lives belong to Bones Maurer, the black cat who debuted recently in "Bell, Book, and Candle." This time around, the four-legged thespian serves as the central plot device in the Playhouse's current showing of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's "The Lieutenant of Inishmore."
A dark comedy that mocks political violence and was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London 2001, "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" earned a Tony Award nomination for best play on Broadway in 2006.
Directed here by Joshua McKerrow and produced by Maureen Rogers, of Laurel, the show focuses on the lunacy of Irish National Liberation Army lieutenant and all-around bad guy Padraic, played superbly by Nicholas Hanni.
"The Lieutenant of Inishmore" opens as Wee Thomas [the cat Padraic has loved since childhood] rots comfortably at the family cottage, having just been discovered lying mangled on a country lane. Meanwhile, Padraic is in Northern Ireland going about the ordinary business of torturing a pusher who sells drugs to Catholic [rather than Protestant] children. His father, Stephen M. Deininger as Donny, calls to tell him that Wee Thomas is a little sick.
As afraid of Padraic as most everyone, Donny plans to ease his volatile son into believing that his "only friend" has died naturally. But the plan backfires when Padraic literally drops everything and rushes home to be at Wee Thomas' side. Of course there is all hell to pay when Padraic discovers that the Wee Thomas has already died, and violently.
The gore factor in this show may be a bit much for the squeamish, like when Padraic caresses and cuddles Wee Thomas' mutilated corpse [represented by a stuffed cat]. Amidst bloody human and animal body parts — many borrowed from Goatman Hollow Productions and Nightmares from Elmridge — and accompanied by lots of gunfire and special effects, McKerrow and his cast aptly deliver a brutal satire reminiscent of popular cult films like "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction."
The current show is in stark contrast to anything that's played at Laurel Mill Playhouse recently. McKerrow said he chose to stage this play not as a story about politics, but because it makes a statement about "people who hurt other people." He believes that the word "terrorist" has too much power in today's society, and that terrorism is an evil perpetuated by "psychopaths taking advantage of conflict to act out."
And that timeless statement is delivered soundly in this sophisticated romp through black humor that keeps the audience too engaged to voice the occasional "ewww" that many of McKerrow's carefully delivered special effects warrant.
Act 1 moves a little sluggishly only because there are inevitable challenges in staging this show on a community theater stage, such as safely suspending an actor upside down from the ceiling. Scene changes require setting five distinctly different locales and complete strikes, which the crew manages well.
Joining Deninger as Donny and Hanni as Padraic are actors Matthew Purpora as Davey, Jeffrey Gangwisch as James, Erin Wagner as Mairead, Derek Cooper as Christy, Daniel Schall as Joey, Ben Bradley as Brendan and Bones as Wee Thomas. McKerrow designed the set and lighting, and Gangwisch designed sound.
Costumed beautifully by Kat McKerrow, all the cast members are edgy and believable in their roles, both visually and in their characterizations. By Act 2, which takes place entirely in Donny's cottage and escalates faster than Act 1, the audience is immersed in the story and primed for the campy twists that lead to an unpredictable ending.
"The Lieutenant of Inishmore" is well performed across the board. But Wagner, the sole female character and Padraic's crazy teenage love interest who is infatuated with the INLA, creates particularly fine chemistry in all of her scenes. And Bones, the only actor to speak without a Gaelic accent, nonetheless appears to have claimed ownership of the Playhouse stage.
No cats, and hopefully not too many sensibilities, are being harmed in the Laurel Mill Playhouse's run of "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," but only the bravest audience members should dare sitting in the front row.
"The Lieutenant of Inishmore" continues through Sunday, Nov. 24, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. General admission is $15. Students, 18 and under; and seniors, 65 and over, pay $12. For reservations, call 301-617-9906 and press 2.