Blood & guts. McDonagh.
Saturday afternoon I headed down to ACT Theatre to catch one of the last showings of Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore. I'd been putting it off, unnerved by the violence. The words "black comedy" have always made me a little nervous. There's nothing funny about blood. Or is there? At what point does violence become comedy? When does Macbeth become Fargo? I thought about Kurosawa's Yojimbo, where a swashbuckling Toshiro Mifune makes treachery and torture somehow entertaining.
The play is straightforward, one single act - a murdered cat - setting off a chain of events that leaves blood splashed all over from one end of the set to the other. Just as you think it is ending, the story takes another, even more violent turn, bodies piling up onstage. The actors take their bows at the end, sweating and grimy and mostly crimson. I close my eyes and wince with each pop of the gun. There are a lot. I also closed my eyes during the scene where the psychotic Padraig is torturing a hapless drug-dealer hanging from the ceiling, having already sliced off a couple of toenails and threatening to take off a nipple while he's at it.
In Inishmore, the violence is played for laughs, each gunshot a wink at the audience. The dripping, spurting blood is almost like something out of a Coen Brothers film, or even Monty Python. The brutality is exaggerated. And the comedy masks a deeper truth - it is a commentary on how people will fight for causes that they don't even begin to understand, and how violence spirals very quickly out of control, begetting more violence, death upon death, until almost no one is left standing.
What anchors the story is the deep attachment that Padraig has for his cat, Wee Thomas, the only friend he has in the world. The only thing that means anything to him, more than torturing drug dealers, more than blowing up chip shops. Even the most murderous of men, with no humanity or sympathy for any other person in the world, not even their own father, can love their cat.