Martin McDonagh is a prop comedian. Sure, the Irish playwright knows how to put an obscenity to good use, writes excellent punch lines and is a master of the twist ending. But the real reason he's every hipster's favorite dramatist is, I am certain, his penchant for onstage mutilation. He's Gallagher by way of Saw, with human heads standing in for watermelons.
McDonagh's bloodlust is most evident in The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a scathing satire of Irish nationalism with a total of six onstage murder victims, two of whom are cats. It's a hilariously funny script, but most of the laughs come in response to its characters' blasé reactions to the carnage. Anyone familiar with McDonagh's work is as eager to be shocked as he is amused, and this production, directed by Jon Kretzu, delivers on the former while neglecting the latter.
Thomas Stroppel stars as Padraic, an unhinged second lieutenant for a splinter group of the IRA (from which he is considering splintering yet again) who becomes even more deranged than usual when he hears that his only friend in the world, his cat, Wee Thomas, is ill. Stroppel, tall and muscular, looks like a younger version of Tahmoh Penikett, who played Helo on Battlestar Galactica, and sadly is just as wooden a performer. He dulls Padraic's astronomical mood swings to a shouty middle ground.
Wee Thomas is in fact dead, bludgeoned by forces unknown, but Padraic's father (Todd Van Voris) and teenage neighbor (Nathan Crosby) are desperate to conceal the fact. They are the fools to this tragedy, incompetently daubing shoe polish on a Wee Thomas stand-in, tormented by the neighbor's psychotic teenage sister and an assortment of bumbling terrorists, and they are excellent. Whenever they were offstage, I longed for them to return.
Where Kretzu has allowed the show's tension to lag and jokes to fall flat, he has not neglected the gore. Blood spurts, limbs are shattered and bodies pile up with a perverse attention to detail. I have never laughed so hard at the sight of a bloodied cat corpse, and suspect I never shall again.
SEE IT: Artists Repertory Theatre. 1515 SW Morrison St. 241-1278. 7:30 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays through March 13. $26-$42, $20 students.