The Lieutenant of Inishmore (or, P. S. Your Cat Is Dead)

I recently saw a provocative and funny Broadway play about an Irish terrorist and his family, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, by a British dramatist named Martin McDonagh.

The hype about this play, which got rave reviews but no Tony Awards in last night’s ceremony, is that it’s the most violent thing to hit midtown Manhattan since Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen checked into the Chelsea Hotel. It’s definitely got a harder-hitting attitude than most Broadway shows, which some people think is great while others fear the Quentin Tarantino-ization of Broadway.

At the beginning of the evening I did not have a strong position on this matter, and I entered the theater ready to be swayed one way or the other.

The lights fall, the audience ruffles its jewelry, and the spotlight shines on two very scared Irish men, a father and a son. The son seems to have just smashed into the family’s beloved cat, Wee Thomas, with his bicycle. The cat is dead, and this is bad news because the family’s eldest son is a famous (and famously deranged) terrorist who loves the cat more than anybody else, and will surely kill his brother for killing his cat.

As James Kirkwood once proved in a novel called P. S. Your Cat Is Dead, an expired feline is sometimes all the material required for an entertaining evening. The father and son desperately try to scheme a way out of their impending doom as the terrorist returns home, having interrupted an important act of torture (which is apparently his day job) to rush back as soon as he’d heard his cat was in trouble.

We soon learn that this terrorist exists without a coherent cause. He has splintered off from his I.R.A. splinter group, and is now left in a ragtag gathering of tired friends who mouth bored cliches about Irish freedom. He’s in love with guns, though, and so is a neighborhood girl who adores him and has a habit of shooting the eyes out of cows. The strange thing about all of these people is that they seem addicted to violence the way people can be addicted to television or junk food. It’s all anybody talks about in Inishmore, the only language anybody understands.

More gun-toting people show up on stage, and most of them end up killing the rest of them, after which the stage of the Lyceum theater turns into the grisliest tableau I have ever seen on a Broadway stage, featuring enough fake-blood and bleeding limbs to power a Korn video.

Let’s just say that the stage crew must have a hell of a clean-up job every night. The play starts moving fast as it moves towards the end; secrets are revealed, more cats are killed, more people are killed, and we discover which character will truly emerge as the Lieutenant of Inishmore by the end (hint: it’s not the tough guy).

The play does suggest Tarantino (which is not, in my opinion, a bad thing), but it also suggests Harold Pinter and David Mamet, and I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind watching a human body get jointed with saws and drills while enjoying a relaxing evening of theater. In other words, it’s a good play but it’s not a date play (and I think I personally lucked out that my girlfriend was busy that night).

More than any work of drama, though, what this play suggests is the newspaper I’m going to read tomorrow morning. As shockingly violent as this play is, it’s really only just violent enough, just cartoonish enough, just Absurdist enough to equal the real crap that’s going on around the world today. Aggresion speaks. From Ireland to Israel to Palestine to Iraq to Iran to Chechnya to Moscow to Darfur to Texas, the warlords shout their slogans and hold us all at gunpoint, and we cower in fear instead of standing up and fighting back. The characters in this play are almost ridiculous enough to be real.

If you’re interested in catching The Lieutenant of Inishmore the next time you’re in New York City, the theater is offering a discount code to readers of LitKicks: just go to and enter code INHDS28, call the box office via the website above, or show up in person with the code at the Lyceum Theatre in Manhattan.

3 Responses

  1. good show… or bad world?I
    good show… or bad world?

    I don’t think of theater as entertainment. To me, it’s a really special event (like watching the Grateful Dead at the Pyramids) or it misses the mark. Great shows (Les Mes, maybe) are an amazing high; bad shows (Baby Doll, for sure) are an amazing letdown. I was watching Jesus Christ Superstar on tv last night; wondering where I could ever see that performed live – must be really something. To walk out of a theater having just seen that play…

    The Lieutenant of Inishmore sounds like entertainment, though you make a good case for it being a parable of today’s mindset. News is… glamourized horror – if only the insurgents would tell our reporters in advance when they’re going to blow something up. Man, that’d draw a bigger audience than those car chases. I suppose it’s very worthwhile for a sick society to look at itself in the mirror (like the scene of the Gremlins in the theater was a parody of the moviegoers watching ‘Gremlins’ in the theater.)

    But life as I know it, is not glamourized horror. If people mindlessly elect leaders who throw away the opportunity for Middle-East peace (from 1992-2000 there were no suicide bombings or pre-emptive retaliations); if people accept leaders who mindlessly start unnecessary wars… then I choose to ignore that, like trying to distance myself from the terminally stupid. So unless those of us (who are not terminally stupid) can unite and act to effect swift and certain change… then it’s sorta like pissing in the wind. I mean, why do we allow this to happen?

  2. break a leg!Ahh, a bit of the
    break a leg!

    Ahh, a bit of the old Grand Guignol in the modern-day Big Apple. Sounds delicious.

  3. The New YorkerThe New Yorker
    The New Yorker

    The New Yorker had a profile of McDonagh a month or two ago and it made me really want to see his plays. I seem to remember that he had terrible trouble getting this particular play staged because of the violence. It was a major goal of his to get this staged in America.

    But his whole cycle of plays sounded fascinating. The New Yorker article is actually available online for anybody who wants to know more about this guy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!