The Lieutenant of Inishmore

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Les Waters
Limited Season · Roda Theatre
April 17–May 24, 2009

Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission

April is the cruelest—and most hilarious—month, when Les Waters lets loose with another shocking script from Martin McDonagh. In 2007, the Obie Award-winning director scored a direct hit with his extended run of The Pillowman; since then, the Oscar Award-winning author released his first feature film, In Bruges. Now Berkeley Rep reenlists these seasoned artists for another vicious comedy. The Lieutenant of Inishmore employs explosive dialogue and a perfectly oiled plot that is brutal, bloody, yet irresistibly funny. As part of an I.R.A. splinter group, Padraic thinks nothing of murdering and mutilating his enemies—but the sudden death of his beloved cat leaves him heartbroken. Amidst the comedy and carnage, McDonagh delivers cutting commentary on the endless cycle of violence that engulfs our world.

Creative team

Martin McDonagh · Playwright
Les Waters · Director
Antje Ellermann · Scenic Design
Anna R. Oliver · Costume Design
Alexander V. Nichols · Lighting Design
Obadiah Eaves · Sound Design
Dave Maier · Fight Director
Lynne Soffer · Dialect Coach
TolinFX · Special Effects
Karen Szpaller · Stage Manager
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Janet Foster · New York Casting
Mina Morita · Assistant Director
Mark Huang · Assistant Sound Design


Michael Barrett Austin · Joey
Rowan Brooks · Brendan
Molly Camp · Mairead
James Carpenter · Donny (April 17–May 17)
Padge Murray · Donny (May 20–24)
Blake Ellis · Padraic
Adam Farabee · Davey
Daniel Krueger · James
Danny Wolohan · Christy

Leaping man“Gasps and laughter fill the house simultaneously. This is shock not for the sake of awe, but as a hilariously timely look at man’s inhumanity to man—and cats…The twists and surprises in McDonagh’s text—every one of them earned—keep building the comic tension. [Director Les] Waters playfully underscores the humor with an unexpected flash of canary yellow and the ever more inventive gore of Stephen Tolin’s special effects as love sprouts amid the bodies.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A savagely funny comedy of errors, cats and carnage that will have you howling with laughter, not to mention pity and fear, from start to finish…One of the most viciously witty, deeply entertaining and strangely cathartic experiences to be had in ages. Only in a world as dark and menacing as our own could a farce about terrorism be this laugh-out-loud hysterical.”—San Jose Mercury News

“A bloody triumph…a show that has you laughing uproariously from beginning to end…An astonishingly adept cast (not to mention the special effects), make this a show Berkeley Rep fans will be talking about for seasons to come. Those who see it will have a hard time believing what they have seen, and those who only hear about it will have serious doubts that something this bloody can be brought to the stage, let alone draw huge laughs. But it can, and it does.”—Bay Area News Group

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

Martin McDonagh loves to get under our skin. He is fully aware of our collective boundaries, knows exactly how to make us feel uncomfortable and proceeds to do so with a sense of unrepentant glee. He uses his searing intelligence and wicked sense of humor to explode subjects that other people regard as too delicate or serious to treat comically. Nationalism, terrorism, religion, all forms of human cruelty: for McDonagh, these and other such matters are drop-dead, seriously funny.

It’s always interesting producing a McDonagh play, not only to watch the effect of his expert craftsmanship but also to watch the audience wrestle with its responses during the performance. Why are some people laughing uncontrollably while others are frowning? Why do some enjoy and delight in the level of violence being depicted and others feel motivated to write violent letters of protest to the artistic director? Why do some regard the playwright as almost criminally amoral and others champion his enlightened courage? The talkbacks for these plays almost always consist of audience members arguing amongst themselves about the worthiness of material.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a prime example of McDonagh’s work. Drenched in buckets of blood, dismembered limbs and bits of brain, the stage becomes a dripping canvas to describe our deliriously terrifying world. Psychotic terrorists weep for their pets, whimsically recall their dear mums and recall the forgotten romance of an illusory past. It’s outrageous, appalling and hypnotic. “This is what it’s come to,” McDonagh seems to be saying, “enjoy.”

We obviously would not be producing this play if we didn’t respect the work or the talent of the writer. For all the talk of McDonagh as a radical voice, his dramatic structure is purely Aristotelian. He is a classicist, a master of plot and character development. His narratives unfold with the precision of the very best-made plays. On that basis alone, he is worth the price of admission. On every other basis, it’s up to you to decide.


Tony Taccone

Prologue: from the Managing Director

In recent weeks, countless people have asked me, “How is Berkeley Rep doing?” Well, since you asked…

This is hardly a good time for anyone, and Berkeley Rep is doing the same things that every other business and household must do. We’re rethinking our priorities, tightening our belts and making choices that we hope will help us withstand the current downturn in the economy while putting practices in place to help us persevere for the long term.

Anticipating that the market would falter, we jumped into action early this autumn, cutting budgets by almost ten percent. Since our revenue comes almost equally from earned income and contributed sources, we have to be concerned with both donations and ticket sales. Therefore, it’s great news that our ticket sales have been strong. With the popularity of the shows we’ve presented this season, we’ve seen attendance hold steady among most groups, including our youngest and newest theatregoers.

Our contributed income, on the other hand, has fallen substantially. Corporate contributions began to drop in 2008, and they’ve continued to decline in 2009. Support from foundations and the government is lower than in recent years. But, as a community organization, we rely on contributions from individuals—so that’s what we’re watching most closely. To date, we’ve seen a rather remarkable trend. While we’ve heard from some past donors that they’re unable to support us this year because of their own changed circumstances, we’ve seen other donors step up to make a difference in difficult times. Almost 50% of our contributors have maintained their current level of giving, and an astonishing 25% increased their gifts! Yet, even with this generosity, we expect to see continued declines in the next 12 months.

So where do we stand now? We are hopeful—but very worried. Hopeful that we’ve made the budget cuts for this season that ensure we can cover our costs and pay our bills. Hopeful that our plans for next season correctly anticipate how much to scale back. Yet we’re deeply concerned that steep declines in subscriptions or contributions will require more draconian action.

As we look to the fall, we know that we’ll be exploring more ways to reduce costs. Yet rest assured that the quality of the work you see on our stage remains our top priority. At Berkeley Rep, art is after all our most important responsibility. We’ve also set two other challenges for ourselves: to continue our commitment to the education and outreach programs at our School of Theatre and to find creative ways to reduce our fixed costs.

We’ve just sent out renewal requests to our subscribers, and we’re hopeful that you’ll continue to see a subscription to Berkeley Rep as a good value—both financially and spiritually. We also hope that those of you who can will continue to support the Theatre with your tax-deductible contributions. We take great pride in the trust you place in us and are doing our utmost to deserve that trust.

Sincerely yours,

Susan Medak

Blood on the boards: A historical overview of stage violence

By Madeleine Oldham

The roots of theatrical performance lie inextricably intertwined with the human attraction to violence. From Oedipus gouging out his own eyes, to the brain-dashing of medieval babies, to Banquo’s bloody ghost trailing droplets throughout Macbeth’s castle, to Punch’s puppet lashings with his famous stick, to Albee’s George ruthlessly choking Martha, Martin McDonagh now carries the torch in a stage tradition that is as old as the theatre itself.

Violence can be traced all the way back to the earliest plays on record. Though many ancient Greek texts hinge on particularly grisly deeds, the law at the time prohibited such events from being depicted on stage. Thus violence on the Greek stage was largely left to the audience’s imagination, at least visually. A chorus might describe a stabbing or a beheading in great detail, but it would have to happen off stage and not be shown.

Ancient Rome, as one might imagine, was another story. The stage had to keep up with the decadence that saturated Roman society. Audiences developed a taste for spectacle and shock, and showed loyalty only to what captured their attention in any given moment. Terence, one of the greatest playwrights of the period, recognized the need to feed this public hunger for excess or risk losing his audience (more literally than we might mean that today: they would physically get up and wander away). According to the “Icons of England” website:

In those days audiences didn’t politely listen to the actors in silence. The plays had to compete for attention with jugglers, tightrope walkers, gladiatorial combats and a host of other circus-style entertainments that might all be going on nearby. Terence complains of seeing the staging of one of his own plays ruined, not once but twice, by the rival attractions of boxing, and rumours that a gladiatorial contest was about to be staged nearby. His play, therefore, needed to be just as violent.

But the Romans did not stop there, also inventing something that could be called “snuff theatre”: They would force convicts to act out their crimes in plays where the stories culminated in the criminals’ executions. But these were not staged versions—they would really be put to death, right there in front of a cheering crowd.

Some theoreticians ascribe the dark period in theatre history between the ancients’ era and the Middle Ages to this unchecked and rampant bloodlust, attesting that people’s taste for drama fell along with the Roman Empire because it had been poisoned by the excessive violence. (Others maintain that it was simply due to lack of documentation.) But the medieval years saw the blood begin to flow again.

Medieval mystery plays (from the Bible) and miracle plays (about the lives of the saints) did not put forth the sanitized versions of religion popular today, but instead reveled in their gory history. These plays delighted in simulating the torture and suffering on the road to martyrdom in graphic detail. Stories involving children were particularly popular, and the more innocent the victim, the more blood was expected. Notable examples include babies being sliced in half and roasted on the temporary spits of soldiers’ swords, and mothers driven by famine to devour their own children.

Elizabethan and Jacobean drama embraced the sword to create their own brand of stage spectacle via duels and suicides. Writers like Christopher Marlowe, John Webster and Ben Jonson did not shy away from poisoning, strangling and other killings, and Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy essentially birthed the new genre of the revenge play, which as one might imagine, involves a healthy dose of bloodlust.

Shakespeare wrote his share of swordfights and murders, but at the same time marked a return to the Greek practice of leaving some violence to the imagination by putting it off stage. He deliberately shows the plucking out of Gloucester’s eyes in King Lear, and pretty much everything in Titus Andronicus, his bloodiest work. But the action of his plots generally preempted graphic spectacle. For example, in order to keep stories moving along, he had many an execution happen off stage. And he only talks of Lady Macbeth’s death, rather than showing it, thus allowing the focus to remain on Macbeth himself for the climax of the play.

In 1642, the Puritans closed all English theatres and outlawed public performance. This ban may have helped to affect a shift in the popular portrayal of onstage violence for many years to come. Restoration theatre generally did not produce spectacular displays of blood and guts, but preferred its violence in the form of beatings and thrashings. Best known for its comedies, this period mastered the art of feeding people’s violent tendencies by making them laugh.

A hallmark of this era, the Italian Commedia dell’arte, consistently devised new and creative ways to physically abuse deserving characters. In this heightened world, an inept or double-crossing servant could be pummeled to within an inch of his life, all while an audience laughed uproariously. On an intellectual level, this may sound morally problematic. But these moments lift us out of reality, and therefore cannot be judged by everyday standards. Exaggeration and catharsis come into play, and there is an unspoken contract between artists and audience that the rules have changed.

Victorian theatre saw the heyday of the controversial Punch and Judy puppet theatre taking these comic beatings to new heights. A precursor to cartoons like Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner, characters could have their heads bashed in, hands chopped off, bodies flattened or necks snapped, and immediately spring back to life as if nothing had happened. What some saw as reprehensible brutality, others saw as hilarious exaggeration. A public debate ensued, with accusations of moral decrepitude from one side and uptight righteousness from the other. One very famous author found the protests ridiculous: Charles Dickens (a huge fan of Mr. Punch) penned the definitive put-down when approached by a woman enlisting his support in her claim that Punch was an instrument of the devil. He wrote, “In my opinion the Street Punch is one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life. I regard it as quite harmless in its influence and as an outrageous joke which no one in existence would think of regarding as a model for any kind of conduct.”

The French equivalent of Punch and Judy shows were called Guignol shows, named after the title character. In 1897, a small theatre in Paris opened calling itself the Grand Guignol, which roughly translates to “big puppet show.” The Grand Guignol took the spirit of excess found in the cartoonish puppet shows and brought it to life using human actors. Though they did perform comic plays, they quickly garnered a reputation as the Holy Grail of live horror. Their popularity rose rapidly, and the theatre began to attract tourists from around the world. They became famous for a special secret recipe for blood that turned something like nine different colors as it coagulated. They brought new meaning to the word “bloodbath,” achieving previously unseen heights of gore with the level of detail they brought to their eyeball scoopings, throat cuttings, carving of entrails, severing of limbs and creative mutilations. Grand Guignol artists assessed their productions’ success based upon how many people fainted and vomited each night.

The Grand Guignol flourished for many years, but finally closed in 1962. While nothing has ever quite matched its zest for the grotesque, a new crop of playwrights began to incorporate physical brutality and carnage into their work. Edward Bond, Howard Barker and Sarah Kane all embrace graphic violence as an effective theatrical tool. The 1990s saw a movement in Britain called In-Yer-Face Theatre, which one website defines as “the kind of theatre which grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck and shakes it until it gets the message.” McDonagh’s work is considered part of the canon of this movement.

No one can accuse Martin McDonagh of failing to make an impression. In John Lahr’s New Yorker review of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, he quotes Flannery O’Connor saying, “To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” McDonagh has invented his own brand of theatrical extremism fueled by blood and glee. He’s taken the most grotesque gore he can dream up, and married it with an uproarious hilarity uniquely his own, solidifying his place in a long legacy of provocative theatre-making.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore’s bumpy road to production

By the late ‘90s, Martin McDonagh already had many successful productions under his belt, garnering significant media attention and international acclaim. However, much to McDonagh’s ire, multiple theatres refused to take on his new play, The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The Royal Court, Druid Theatre Company and National Theatre, all supporters of McDonagh’s work, turned down the play declaring it too controversial. They found the issues too raw and the timing too soon: the Irish peace process was still in uncertain territory, and IRA bombs were still claiming civilian lives. McDonagh responded to these rejections with public invective, calling the decisions “completely ludicrous” and “gutless.” In his view, the sensitivity of the subject matter was exactly why the play had to be staged. The Lieutenant of Inishmore was finally premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2001, five years after it was written.


By Alex Rosenthal

Ruthless bloodshed and impassioned conviction saturate the ambiguous and tangled history of the Irish Republican Army, or IRA. In the 1910s, all of Ireland was under British rule, and its population mainly consisted of Catholics and Protestants. Most of the Catholic population traced its lineage to the Celts who had inhabited the island since the eighth century BC. The Protestant population began arriving from England and Scotland nearly 2,000 years later during the 16th century, and cemented its position in Irish society when the British army under Oliver Cromwell conquered Ireland in the mid-17th century.

The two populations retained separate cultural identities, due to ideological rifts as well as anti-Catholic discriminatory laws put into place by the British government in the 17th century. These discriminatory laws remained in place in various forms for several hundred years. In the early 20th century two political parties dominated Irish politics: Nationalists and Unionists. Nationalists, most of whom were Catholic, supported a self-governing Ireland completely free from British rule. Unionists, most of whom were Protestant and concentrated in the north, advocated that Ireland remain a part of the British Empire.

Before 1914, the Nationalist struggle for an independent Ireland primarily took place through peaceful political means, as opposed to the violent measures which have now become so closely associated with the IRA. A Nationalist political victory occurred in 1914, when Britain passed the Home Rule Act. Home Rule granted Ireland self-government for most domestic affairs, but maintained British rule and governance on the international level. (Although passed into law, Home Rule was not actually put into practice, due to the onset of World War I.) Angered by the loss of complete British rule, Unionists armed themselves and formed a paramilitary organization called the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Nationalists responded in kind, arming and forming the group which was to become the Irish Republican Army.

Over the next several years the IRA became less moderate in its goals and more violent in its methods, and soon was launching military operations against the British government in Ireland. In the 1916 Easter Rising, Nationalists seized a number of British government buildings and declared an independent Irish Republic. The Easter Rising was crushed after six days, but this rebellion and the subsequent executions of its leaders galvanized the Nationalist population against the British. This momentum helped push Sinn Fein, a new Nationalist political party committed to a completely independent Irish Republic, to power.

From 1919 to 1921, the IRA fought a War of Independence against the British by attacking British police forces and denying their authority, with the goal of making Ireland ungovernable. This war ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which partitioned Ireland into two territories: Southern Ireland, a self-governing territory of 26 counties, and Northern Ireland, consisting of six counties which would remain under British rule. The separation was designed in part to placate the Protestant Unionist majority in the North, which remained in favor of British rule.

The signing of this treaty created deep rifts within Nationalist ranks (in fact, a civil war broke out from 1922 to 1923 between those supporting the treaty and those against it). Many Nationalists refused to claim victory until all of Ireland was united and free, and those who held this opinion stayed loyal to the IRA and its cause. Over the next 40 years, the IRA remained committed to protecting the Irish Republic, freeing Northern Ireland from British rule and protecting the civil rights of all Irish citizens. By 1962 the failure to make significant progress and the lack of ardent support on the part of the Irish people caused the IRA to effectively lose steam and all but cease its violent efforts. However, towards the end of the 1960s, an escalation of violence against Catholics instigated new conflicts within the IRA, and ideological and tactical differences split the IRA into several organizations.

In 1969 the IRA reemerged under a new name and new leadership as the Provisional IRA (the name “Provisional” implied that the group, as one might guess, was intended to be temporary, but it ended up lasting for 30 years). The exact connection to the original IRA is convoluted, but essentially the Provisional IRA arose to combat discrimination against the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland that had persisted throughout much of the 20th century. This discrimination manifested itself in areas such as employment, housing and electoral practices. In response to this, a Catholic civil rights movement began in the late 1960s. Demonstration marches were met with police brutality, precipitating a cycle of sectarian violence as Catholics and Protestants fought against one another, justifying one attack as a reprisal for another. The Provisional IRA stepped up in defense of the Northern Catholics against the British and organizations such as the UVF, which had taken to targeting Catholics. From the beginning, however, the Provisional IRA attempted to distance itself from being seen as a participant in a sectarian conflict, claiming that it would only attack Protestants in retaliation for their attacks on Catholics, and reasserting the goal of a unified Irish Republic. Of course, with Nationalist/Unionist lines already drawn along the Catholic/Protestant schism, the political and religious struggles were essentially inseparable, but this did not prevent the Provisional IRA from continuing to assert their anti-sectarian stance.

The Provisional IRA rooted itself in the embracing of an Irish cultural identity, and many members learned the Irish language, adopted traditional cultural values and continued to fight for a unified, self-governed Ireland. But the nonviolent channels of demonstrations and the political process were deemed ineffective, and the Provisional IRA resolved to use force to meet its goals. In addition to violence directed at British and Unionist military organizations, IRA members also policed their communities, punishing members who were seen to be working to the detriment of society, such as thieves and drug dealers. It was not uncommon for these antisocial elements, as well as those who opposed or defied the IRA, to receive punishments including violent beatings and being shot in the kneecaps.

British soldiers responded to violent attacks against them with force of their own, and another cycle of violence was born. On January 30, 1972, a day remembered as Bloody Sunday, the British Army killed 13 civilians during a march in which the soldiers may or may not have come under fire. Rage towards the British over similar events fueled the conviction of IRA members and the Nationalists who supported them. Terrible suffering was inflicted by both sides, and when IRA attacks resulted in civilian casualties, they spun the dead and injured as victims of Britain’s imperialism—the IRA propaganda machine was very effective. The IRA began bombing campaigns in the early 1970s, some targeted at British soldiers, others designed to explode in public places and claim innocent lives. They did not limit their attacks to Ireland; bombs exploded in England, and assassination attempts were made against the Queen and British political leaders. The IRA hoped to make British occupation untenable by causing the British losses to outweigh the gains of retaining sovereignty. Attacks on British soil also placed pressure on British citizens to support withdrawal from Ireland to protect their lives and the lives of their soldiers. These cycles of violence persisted and continued to claim lives through the early 1990s.

The mid to late ‘90s finally saw the violence diminish thanks to a thorny, yet persistent peace process on the part of British and Irish politicians and diplomats. In 1998, the British and Irish governments passed the Belfast Agreement. This essentially disengaged Britain from the determination of Ireland’s future by allowing Northern Ireland to leave British rule by a majority vote of its citizens, which it has yet to do because the Unionist majority of Northern Irish citizens does not support leaving British rule. The IRA has not achieved its goal of a united Ireland, but in the meantime it began a ceasefire in 1997, and the organization, overseen by an international commission, has destroyed much of its weaponry. However, after 12 relatively quiet years, recent attacks have invoked the cycles of bloodshed and recriminations the country is so eager to leave behind, indicating that total reconciliation may be a long time in coming.

Troubling statistics

The period of turmoil and bloodshed from 1969 to 1998 in Northern Ireland has been colloquially called “the Troubles.” (Some would contend that the Troubles continue today, although violent incidents are now on a much smaller scale and far less frequent.) The exact death toll of the Troubles varies according to who tells the story and how the deaths are tabulated. However, one study that has collated data from many newspapers, court records and primary sources places the total death toll at 3,526 people. Of those, 1,854 were civilians, 1,115 British troops, 394 Nationalist paramilitary troops (such as the IRA), 153 Unionist paramilitary troops (such as the UVF) and 10 Irish security forces. According to the study, Nationalist paramilitary groups were responsible for 2,057 of the total deaths, Unionist paramilitary groups for 1,019 and British troops for 363.

The INLA: a splinter group

In addition to the political, social and religious rifts that perpetuated the conflict in Ireland, ideological rifts existed within the IRA itself, and a number of offshoot organizations formed, also dedicated to the forceful removal of the British. In The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Padraic belongs to one such organization, the socialist Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), which had a reputation for being particularly ruthless in its bloodshed. The INLA gained notoriety when one of its car bombs killed Airey Neave, a British politician and close friend of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. These splinter organizations experienced fractures of their own, and it was not uncommon for Nationalist paramilitary organizations to target each other. According to one source, of the 113 deaths for which the INLA was responsible, 16 were members of Nationalist paramilitary organizations, 10 of whom were actually INLA soldiers. Of the remaining deaths, 46 were British soldiers and 42 were civilians.

Monsters and their pets

Sometimes, people responsible for the most horrible human atrocities have soft spots for animals.

Hitler had an Alsatian, aptly named Blondi, that he treated like royalty. Blondi enjoyed the privilege of sleeping in Hitler’s bedroom—a privilege not extended to Eva Braun. Just before his own suicide, he tested a cyanide capsule on Blondi to make sure it was potent enough for him to take himself. It was, and he shortly thereafter joined his beloved dog in death.

Caligula’s lavish treatment of his horse, Incitatus, is often pointed to as an indication of his mental imbalance. It has been reported that the horse had 18 servants waiting on him, ate oats sprinkled with flakes of gold, and had his name affixed to dinner invitations, so guests would read that Incitatus had asked them to dine with Caligula. It is often noted that Caligula even went so far as to consider giving him an official governmental post.

It is rumored that Mao kept a pet cockroach because he had outlawed regular pets, Pinochet cared for mutant turtles, Mussolini had dogs and a lion and Ivan the Terrible owned goldfish. It is even a widely circulated idea, although false, that Pol Pot was a vegan.

Watch now

Production trailer

The critics are gushing about The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Production B-roll

B-roll of The Lieutenant of Inishmore—roughly three minutes of excerpts.

Les Waters

Highlights from Les Waters’ Director Presentation for The Lieutenant of Inishmore.



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