Stage reviews: ‘Inishmore,’ ‘Death Is No Small Change!’

TERRORIST AT WORK  |  A cruel Irishman (Matt Moore, right) plies his trade on a drug pusher (Matt Tolbert) in ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore.’ (Photo by Mark Oristano)

Pussy gore-lore

‘Inishmore’ makes cat torture funny; Pegasus mounts a colorful black & white play

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a horror-comedy about a dead cat and a terrorist, which sounds neither horrific nor comedic, and that’s sort of the idea. An unbalanced 20-year-old lad named Padraic (Matt Moore), who was drummed out of the Irish Republican Army for being too cruel, learns his boyhood cat, Wee Thomas, is ill and rushes home to see him.

Wee Thomas isn’t actually ill, though — he’s already had his brains smashed out before the play begins, and his father (Jason C. Kane) and skittish local boy Davey (Tony Daussat), who may have done the deed, are just trying to let Padraic down easy. Because if Padraic finds out what really happened … well, that’s a road best not traveled.

This is playwright Martin McDonagh’s bloodiest dark comedy, a gorefest that has more exploding, gooey brains and missing eyeballs than a Freddy Kruger film. It would be even more disgusting if it weren’t so funny.

But this production could be funnier. Daussat in particular is an unmined vein of comic gold. Davey, the long-haired, hyperbolic, possibly gay town idiot cannot be ratcheted up too high on the hysterical meter. He needs to come out like a Roman candle, befuddled but frantic, but Daussat never achieves that level. I’ve also heard a more authentic accent in Irish Spring ads (or, for that matter, family reunions).

By the second act, the show hits its rhythm: Not only does a crew of terrorist rivals (Clay Yocum, Evan Fuller, Ian Ferguson) add energy and better brogues to the mix, but the bloodletting rises to horrendous levels (by the end, actress Kayla Carlyle looks like she’s just come from Carrie’s high school prom). Director Terry Martin and special effects whiz Steve Tolin don’t shy from the excess, which is where this play really succeeds. McDonagh’s genius is being entertaining and disgusting at the same time. Who doesn’t wanna meet that challenge?

The selling point of Pegasus Theatre’s “black & white plays” has always been their black & whiteness — a masterful effect that makes everything onstage appear grey, as if from a 1940s B-movie. Each new play deals with famed but bumbling private eye Harry Hunsacker (Pegasus founder and playwright Kurt Kleinmann), the Mr. Magoo of crime solving who loveably stumbled on the solution with the help of his “best friend and paid by the hour assistant Nigel” (Ben Bryant). The mysteries — convoluted potboilers that do keep you guessing — are usually hit-and-miss affairs, rising and falling on the jokes and casts.

It’s ironic, then, that the b&w effect the night I saw the latest, Death Is No Small Change!, it had some flaws (a blue light from a Tesla coil, a few patches of uncovered skin) but the production itself was just dandy. Director Susan Sargeant keeps up a brisk pace (until the inevitably talky explanation), and stages the comings and goings smoothly.

This is probably Kleinmann’s best play, with surprisingly strong characters for a melodrama, performed nicely by the actors (many of them Pegasus vets): The ghoulish butler Sebastian (hysterically overplayed by David Benn with Karloffian creepiness) and the mad scientist (given Shakespearean bravado by Mario Cabrera) are especial standouts, getting into its William Castle-like “spooky mansion” ethos. They turn it into something Pegasus shows usually aren’t: Colorful.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

—  John Wright