PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Lieutenant of Inishmore: Top o’ the Mourning

News   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Lieutenant of Inishmore: Top o’ the Mourning The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which opened May 3 at the Lyceum, is the sort of play that makes you suspect Martin McDonagh came home from school with a note from Teacher saying he didn’t play well with other children. It’s a black and bloody time in the sandbox.
Martin McDonagh; David Wilmot; Alison Pill; Wilson Milam; Brian D'Arcy James; Adriane Lenox; Marisa Tomei; Karen Ziemba; Logan Marshall-Green & Ari Graynor; Rebecca Luker.
Martin McDonagh; David Wilmot; Alison Pill; Wilson Milam; Brian D'Arcy James; Adriane Lenox; Marisa Tomei; Karen Ziemba; Logan Marshall-Green & Ari Graynor; Rebecca Luker. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Directed with the gleeful abandon of kindergarten by Wilson Milam and played out on an adult level by a cast with gusto and verve, what we have here is a short-circuiting failure to communicate between two splinter-groups of Irish terrorists. More often than not, discussions are held with guns drawn and leveled squarely at the head of the addressee. (There is even a love scene conducted in this fashion, between our leading hitman and the only female around, a pistol-packin’ lass of 16.) Inevitably, all this brandishing about and bravura leads to lots of bleeding and a big body count. Cats and cows better scurry, too.

Yes, it’s a comedy. The laughter begins before the dialogue—from a situation that is grisly to the point of giddy. McDonagh starts out with his eye locked into Mischievous Glint and carries that like Thelma and Louise over the top into the grandest of Grand Guignols.

“People know straight from the get-go that this play is different,” proffered Andrew Connolly, who plays the gun-toting cretin with the eye-patch who tries to get a rival terrorist where he lives—by murdering his housecat, Wee Thomas (God, not that!).

“When you see the opening scene, you realize that anything can happen—and it can happen in a very funny way so you know there’s nothing to fear,” said the Dublin-born actor. “I wouldn’t even call it a violent comedy. It’s more of an absurdist comedy.

“The most difficult aspect of this play is how people will perceive it. There’s all this talk about `United 93,' whether it’s too soon too soon too soon. Obviously, this is a transitional period for America, but I think movies like that—and plays like this—are really helping to bridge the gap. What it all comes down to is: ‘Is violence worth it?’ And it is not.” When the first-nighters adjourned to B.B. King’s on 42nd Street—a simple three-block walk from the Lyceum, albeit in the rain—impresario Eric Krebs was greeting them at the door, practically giving Been There—Done That T-shirts away that seconded this motion.

“This is the same plot as Electra [he produced its last go-around with Zoe Wanamaker]. Electra ends with ‘Will this killing never cease?’ It’s the same concept—war is stupid.”

The crucial difference is that when the variation of that line comes up in The Lieutenant of Inishmore it produces howls of sustained laughter, as delivered by Domhnall Gleeson, who originated the role of the geeky teenage innocent in London and gets to make his Broadway debut with it by virtue of the fact that he’s pretty impossible to duplicate.

“I fell in love with that character as soon as I read the play,” Gleeson confesseed. “His innocence is tangible and real. And he’s a beautiful person trapped in a moron’s body. I think he’s just one of these guys who’s 17 and never kissed a girl, and it weighs on his conscience heavily. A lot of things in his life become about not being the gay boy in the village whom everyone makes fun of—and yet that’s what is a perpetual. I think everyone is like him at one stage or another. He’s not old enough for the world around him.”

When it was suggested that Gleeson might make the Tony running with that performance, he passed the compliment along to his scene partner: “My fingers are crossed for Peter Gerety, that’s what I’m hoping,” he said with a believable sincerity. “He’s amazing—and he’s been very gentle with me. I’ve never done theatre this big. I’ve never done anything to American audiences. I think there’s a certain thing with American audiences to not actually like the underdog—my character is certainly an underdog—and it was tough for me transferring from London, where the underdog is a big thing, to being here where it’s sorta like, ‘Well, sort yourself out if you’re an underdog.’ And Peter helped me with that.”

Gleeson was considerably less charitable about his other principal scene partner. “I hate working with that damn cat. He steals the show every frigging night! He did a double-take tonight, which frankly I find ridiculous, and I’m going to talk to the first A.D. about it. He’ll be getting notes tomorrow, I’ll tell you that!”

Gerety is an American actor passing quite plausibly for Irish—and with reason: “Just before we stated rehearsal, I went to Galway for ten days and just sat around.” The atmosphere-soak was quite successful. He plays the father of the cat-loving killer.

That character is also essayed by the London original, David Wilmot, who was welcomed to the opening night with congratulations for winning the Lucille Lortel Award. (He is also contending for awards from the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle—and a Tony nomination seems, at this point, reachable.) It’s a pile-driving performance that pushes the play into overdrive—and it’s quixotic: Balancing a hair-trigger temper with a tender heart is like juggling a banana and buzzsaw. Once, as he is being carted away by two goons, his rage reaches Looney Tune proportions.

Isn’t that enormously hard to act? “Well, you need energy,” he conceded, "but it’s simple because Martin McDonagh has done all the work for you. You just need to give it energy.”

Brian d’Arcy James seconded that—another hood from the Aran Island ‘hood heard from: “It’s just the opposite of hard to act. The text is just so pristine you’ve just got to show up and say the lines. You don’t have to do anything else—show up and say them.”

How long he will be saying them is a different matter. The rumor that he’ll replace Tony-winning Norbert Leo Butz in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when Butz’s contract is up at the end of July is something he can’t respond to right now. “I’m not exactly sure yet, but I will say Norbert has three names and so do I, so I’m thinking that maybe at least that gives me the courage to give it a shot...” Rough translation: Yes, but we’re negotiating.

As the youngest and slowest of the hired guns, Dashiell Eaves took no small order of pride in the fact that his character is a couple of quarts low in the intellectual department. “I try to do dumb well,” Eaves declared. “In fact, that’s my favorite thing to do.”

And he duly noted the audience was very “with it” on opening night. “Omigod! It was a fantastic audience. People respond to Martin’s humor in a way that no other writer I’ve ever worked with achieved. They really connect with him. It’s amazing to be part of that.”

Jeff Binder does 12 of his 14 minutes on stage suspended in the air, upside down—with fake blood gushing from two freshly removed toe-nails—on the receiving end of some rough interrogation from Wilmot. “I’m sure there have been scenes I’ve done where people have wanted to string me up,” he wryly allowed, “but I’ve never actually been strung up for a scene before. Actually, it’s sort of a fun thing to do, something different.”

Have there been any physical after-effects? “Not any more. When I first started rehearsing, I would be fine for the rehearsal—we would do it a couple of times—and then, about 45 minutes afterwards, I’d get a little bit of the shakes and feel a little nauseous and just be out of sorts for a couple of hours. Then, after about two weeks of that, I think my body figured out, ‘Oh, he’s not going to die.’ Now, I don’t even think about it.”

It’s Binder’s only scene and the second one into the show, but he doesn’t sit around backstage watching the “blood” coagulate on his body. “No, I go off and take a shower. Then, I put it all back on to do the curtain call. We take three showers a day on matinee days. It’s the old showers backstage, and we all take our turns. We’re squeaky-clean.”

The lone female on board for Broadway is a Canadian, Alison Pill, who stepped in to replace the third original London cast member after the play’s U.S. launch at the Atlantic Theatre Company. (Kerry Condon was needed back home in “Rome,” the HBO series.)

Director Milan got through his Broadway debut intact. “It felt like an out-of-body experience, like I was watching proper theatre and suddenly realized I was involved in it.”

He credited the hard-working cast with making a draining level of performing look easy. “It’s a team, it’s a unit, it’s a squad—a lovely group of people. They were there tonight.”

He and playwright McDonagh have a history. “A show I did called Killer Joe he saw years ago in London, and then I saw his show The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and we’ve stayed in touch.” A professional mating was inevitable, given that Beauty Queen had only one nasty little off-stage bludgeoning and Killer Joe really sloshes around the fake blood.

Neil Pepe, Atlantic’s artistic director, was pleased to be riding another McDonagh opus to Broadway. “Beauty Queen was his first play ever in America,” Pepe pointed out, “and what he’s now saying is that Lieutenant is his last play ever in America. He says this is the last play he will ever write. But we’ll see. We’ll always be happy to have him back.”

McDonagh’s head has, indeed, been turned—West, to Hollywood (or at least to movies)—by the Oscar he got three months back for 2005’s Best Liva Action Short Film. His winning entry was a 27-minute short he wrote and directed called "Six Shooter," and it featured Gleeson and Wilmot and the original title player of The Cripple of Inishmore, Ruaidhi Conroy—all of them dealing with grief in a bombastic and bloody fashion.

“It’s not that I’m being pushed in the direction of films,” McDonagh clarified. “I always loved films, and I could have done them, like, ten years ago. The offers were out after Beauty Queen, but I wanted to stay in theatre and shake it up a little bit, and I kinda did that with The Pillowman and, I hope, with this play.” His next project? A film he wrote and will direct in Belgium titled "In Bruge." “It will star Brian O’Byrne, and it’s going to be the first and only great film that Brian has ever done.” (He was joshing about the last part, spotting O’Byrne within ear-shot, having just slipped in from Shining City. O'Byrne, indeed, earned Tony nominations for McDonagh’s The Lonesome West and Beauty Queen. They are, as you might imagine, old friends.

For the record, this is McDonagh’s fourth time on Broadway—and he has never been there without coming away with Tony nomination. Alas, he has not come away with a Tony, either.

So he is sincere about backing away from plays for a while. In fact, he is not sure when he’ll get around to finishing his Aran Island trilogy—“maybe not for five years or more because it’s not finished yet.” Is he working on it now? “I will be working on it one day.” But he does have a title, when and if it ever happens: The Banshees of Inishmore.

Amy Ryan, who has certainly given at the office in terms of plays (Irish plays, a specialty), is going through rush of film—or is it rushes? “I’m doing a movie called `Gone, Baby, Gone' that Ben Affleck is going to direct in Boston. I play an unfortunate, uneducated, drug-ridden bad mother. Then I’m going to do Sidney Lumet’s new movie called `Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.' I’m Ethan Hawke’s ex-wife, and Brian O’Byrne is in it as well. On Monday, I start a movie called `Neal Cassady' starring Glenn Fitzgerald and Tate Donovan, who were both in Lobby Hero. Glenn plays Jack Kerouac, Tate is Neal and I’m Carolyn Cassady. It’s by a new writer-director named Noah Pushell.”

Producer Chase Mishkin said she is preparing for the May 22 first-reading of a new musical she is working on, Lady on a Carousel. Bill Goldstein wrote the music, and Charles Leipart wrote the lyrics and the book.

A surprise addition to the regular opening-night crowd was film writer-director Richard LaGravenese, “one of the smaller, humbler investors,” he characterized himself. He is currently editing for a Paramount release "Freedom Writers," starring Hilary Swank, Imelda Staunton, Scott Glenn, Patrick Dempsey and John Patrick Shanley. It’s based on "The Freedom Writer’s Diaries: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them” by high school teacher Erin Gruwell and her students.

Carrie Preston, fresh from Festen (if that’s possible), was escorted to the party by her husband, Michael Emerson. “I have to go back to Hawaii next week and do the two-part season finale of ‘Lost,’" he said. "Then, I’m just going to lounge around this summer. I think I’ll have more TV work in the fall, but I won’t say on which show.”

Sylvia Miles was crowing that she has just been made an honorary member of the National Arts Club—supposedly the first actress to make the list since Sylvia Sidney. The two Sylvias were not friends. Says Miles: “I made the mistake of going up to her one time and telling her that my mother named me after her. It didn’t sit well.” Nor did Miles winning a Best Actress nomination in London for a play Sidney did (unnominated) on Broadway: Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carre.

Karen Ziemba is pleased to be back with Steel Pier producer, Roger Berlind, for the upcoming Kander and Ebb, Curtains. “I’m going to be the lyricist of the show out of town,” she said. And she’ll go out of town, too—to the Ahmanson in Los Angeles. Rehearsals start June 5. Her hubby, Bill Tatum, will be doing a backers’ audition in June of Bluff, a show that won him such raves at the 78th Street Theatre Workshop recently it may go into an open-ended run Off-Broadway. It means he has to come in from Vermont between rounds of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The evening’s guest list included Marisa Tomei, Matthew Modine, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kate Burton, Tovah Feldshuh, Julie Halston, Josh Hamilton, Logan Marshall Green, Ari Gaynor, Kevin Chamberlin (in Chicago, readying to unwrap “Mister Cellophane”), Kelli Garner, Megan McGinnis & Jenny Powers (two of Broadway’s Little Women), Hamish Linkletter, Kate Reinders, Julie White and the bold and beautiful Adrienne Frantz, Fran Drescher, Adriane Lenox (who did her ten minutes of Doubt between play and party), Maureen Dowd, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Danny Burstein and Rebecca Luker, David Lansbury, Color Purple director Gary Griffin (“I’m relaxing right now”), Thomas Meehan and wife Carolyn (“If you’re going to preach, this is the best way to do it”).

Black 47 took to B.B. King's bandstand and proved a conversation killer of the first rank. The New York Irish rock band cleared the room and the sinuses.

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