SAINT PATRICK'S DAY is about to darken Savannah’s door once again. Before the shots of Jameson and hearty servings of corned beef and cabbage, Savannah Repertory Theatre will pay tribute to one of Ireland’s most valued exports—its wicked sense of humor.
It’s a perfect time for the local theatre troupe to produce the pitch-black comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Not only does the production offer an off-kilter launch to Savannah’s brand of kelly green-hued March Madness, but its author is quickly becoming a household name.
Playwright, screenwriter, and director Martin McDonagh has been creating acclaimed work since the late 1990s, but this year has been pivotal thanks to his film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. So far, the film has won three BAFTA Awards and two Golden Globe Awards, and it’s up for four Academy Awards.
Savannah Rep’s Ken Hailey hopes the cast and audience will toast a “Best Picture” win right after their Sunday performance.
“It’s fully deserving if it wins,” Hailey says.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore was first produced off-Broadway in February 2006 by the Atlantic Theater Company. It transferred to Broadway in May 2006 and received a Tony nomination for Best Play.
Hailey saw the show on Broadway after word spread about the “very strange, totally horrible on one hand, and hysterically funny on the other” play.
“My partner and I went to see it,” Hailey recounts. “He turned to me in the middle of the show and said, ‘I can’t believe the things that I’m laughing at!’”
That’s the lure and success of McDonagh’s bloody, baffling piece, which will be brought to life by an array of Savannah-based and regional actors.
Set in Ireland in 1993, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a side-splitting tale of revenge. As the Northern Ireland peace process begins, Irish National Liberation Army man Mad Padraic receives word that his beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is unwell.
Heading home to the island of Inishmore, Padriac discovers that Wee Thomas has, in fact, been killed in a most grotesque manner. Marked as “too mad” by his own INLA comrades, Padriac is hell-bent on avenging Wee Thomas’s death at any cost.
The production requires a half-dozen stage firearms, six gallons of stage blood per night, and multiple special effects rigs.
“Eric Bishop, our Tech Director, is outdoing himself,” says Hailey. “We have to kill four people onstage. Three have to cut their bodies up. We torture somebody upside down. We have gunplay.”
The show is the first of its kind for Hailey, who’s well-versed in slapstick comedy. The whole cast has been learning about stage combat, and even the show’s feline stars (residents of Purrvana Cat Café) are receiving training.
“One of my many jobs growing up was at the zoo in Hot Springs, Arkansas,” says Hailey. “I learned a lot of animal training techniques.”
Don’t worry—though the plot may seem grim, no kitties are harmed in the show.
The show’s ups and down provide a welcome challenge for the whole cast and crew.
“On top of stage combat, you’re doing serious drama, and at the same time, you’re doing high comedy, slapstick, and drunk scenes,” Hailey explains. “It’s a crazy piece.”
It’s certainly Savannah Rep’s most ambitious piece to date and serves as a nice bookend to the company’s first year.
“This is the sixth show we’ve done in one year, and we’ve built up our audience steadily,” says Hailey. “We’ve been getting more response from the acting community, and we also have our own Playshop, which we’re sharing with a lot of the community. We’re really excited about the way things are going and we’re looking at some pretty great stuff for next year.”
Community service has become key for Savannah Rep. Half of ticket sales from the Friday, March 2 performance will go to benefit wounded veterans through the Nine Line Foundation.
The show is certainly not for the faint-hearted and is recommended for ages 18 and up. Above all, Hailey hopes the show’s core message reaches Savannah Rep’s audiences.
“The main thing is, it’s a satire that is on the absolute eventual worthlessness of terrorism and violence,” he explains. “It does this thing that is so brilliant—it is fearless in the way it goes there. What this does is take the idea of violence as a political tool and laughs at the moronic idea that it is.”
“We’re really loving the satire aspects of it—it’s something you rarely get to do. It’s a comedy, it’s a drama, it combines everything, puts it in the mix, points, and laughs.”