History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Early English 21st
Martin McDonagh[edit | edit source]
Martin McDonagh continued satiric work from the previous decade in another black comedy, "The lieutenant of Inishmore" (2001).
“In McDonagh’s repertoire, The Lieutenant of Inishmore stands as the most unrelentingly violent and the most unrelentingly comic play, a piece that in fact turns the violence into play“ (Doyle, 2007 p 92). “The logical disconnect between the violence and the absurd sentimentality over a cat is meant on the surface to evoke humor...but more significantly to satirize the Irish tradition of the lonesome, winsome, and heroic IRA combatant as it simultaneously satirizes the edifice of the Irish dramatic tradition…While Padraic is torturing James...Padraic discovers that his cat...'is poorly'; he plunges into despair, James tries to console him- the juxtaposition of the tortured consoling the torturer illustrates the nihilistic incongruity. McDonaugh is masterful in aligning a magnitude of violence simultaneously with profound triviality” (Krasner, 2016 pp 488-489). "Padraic, though described as mad and seemingly heartless, continually invokes a number of seemingly arbitrary standards and limitations in regard to his employment of violence, though his honor is undercut by his hypocrisy. For example, when torturing James, he remarks: 'You do push your filthy drugs on the schoolchildren of Ireland, and if you concentrated exclusive on the Protestants, I'd say well and good, but you don't, you take all comers'" (Knox, 2013 pp 370-371).
In "The lieutenant of Inishmore", "there is no return to order...McDonagh seems to have turned traditional farce on its head; in his dramatic world actions do have consequences and violence is as much realized as it is symbolic, whilst its displacement veers towards drug dealers and cat killers, initially, but essentially to paramilitary groups. Mairead can no longer join the INLA as, in this instance, it has no members left. It has destroyed itself. There is no sense release or regret for her, just boredom" (Jordan, 2009 p 283).
"The lieutenant of Inishmore"[edit | edit source]
Time: 1993. Place: Ishimore, Ireland.
Davey brings over to Donny a dead black cat found in the street, but the latter believes this to be a lie, Davey having squashed the cat, named Wee Thomas, belonging to Donny's son, Padraic, a self-appointed lieutenant of a splinter group from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a Catholic terrorist group situated in Northern Ireland. Donny promises to keep the truth secret to his dangerous son provided that Davey admits his deed. Knowing that it is untrue but fearful of Padraic, Davey accepts. In disgust over the activities of James, a drug pusher among schoolchildren, Padraic has captured him, turned him upside-down, and cut off two of his toenails. He prepares to cut off a nipple from his breast, but instead releases him after receiving a call from his father that Wee Thomas is sick, a lie meant to mitigate the bad news of the cat's demise into small successive stages. In fear of Padraic's rage, Davey scours the town for a black cat to replace Wee Thomas, but is unable to find one. Instead, he brings back a ginger cat and, with Donny's help, paints it black with shoe polish. Padraic discovers the two cronies in a drunken sleep and is not fooled by the substitution. He shoots the cat dead. Pointing towards Davey, a frightened Donny turns against his helpmate. "This fella clobbered him with his bike and then pegged stones at him," Donny declares. Padraic angrily ties up both men and hacks off Davey's fancy hairdo with a knife in preparation of killing them, but is interrupted by the arrival of three of his old colleagues armed with guns who have come over to kill him for leaving the INLA. Having killed his cat to set up this trap for him, they tie Padraic's hands and lead him out for execution, but he is saved by his girlfriend and Davey's sister, Mairead, who blinds all three INLA members with shots from an air rifle. The three blind men re-enter the house in despair and then shoot out through the windows in the hope of striking their assailants by chance, but Padraic easily succeeds in killing them. Padraic and Mairead force Donny and Davey to chop up the victims' body parts before their removal elsewhere and to clean up the place. They also decide to stick together as "Wee Thomas' army". But when Mairead discovers that the dead ginger cat, Sir Roger, is hers, in anger at Padraic's thoughtless deed, she shoots him dead and orders the other two to chop him up with the rest. "And it's an investigation tomorrow I'll be launching, when I've had the chance to think, about how Sir Roger came to end up in this house in the first place, and half black with it," she announces to the anxious pair.
Conor McPherson[edit | edit source]
Another Irish-born dramatist, Conor McPherson (1971-?), contributed a tale of two troubled brothers in "The seafarer" (2006).
“The characters always seem to keep something unsaid, whether because they feel guilty of what they have done in the past and do not want the others to know about it, or to block out a harmful and shameful remembrance from their conscience, or even to avoid an open conflict with the other characters. And although the action ends with provisional resolution, not all the cultural and personal conflicts shown at the beginning of the play are actually overcome. In The Seafarer, differently also from the so-called “well-made-play” (la pièce bien faite), conflict and its resolution do not develop from the action (mainly spoken) of the characters...Sharky is back home explicitly to take care of Richard. But it is difficult to know who is taking care of whom...The motivations for Richard's constant teasing and Sharky’s avoidance of a direct confrontation are only disclosed at the end of the play...As Mephistophilis in the end of Marlowe’s play, Lockhart has come to collect the debt Sharky owes him...Lockhart wants to take Sharky with him to hell...In a formidable coup de théâtre, Richard and Ivan, unaware that they have done so, beat the devil...The play ends with such a large chain of questions unanswered and paradoxes unresolved that one can imagine that the greatest joke of all is really its end, like a morality play in which the author was more interested in the immanence of life than the transcendence of the salvation of the soul. McPherson’s The Seafarer can be seen as a study of the importance and the role of the daemonic drive in human existence. Lockhart is there to utter what is deep inside Sharky, to paint the picture of his sufferings, his incapacity of loving and being together, the terrible conflict he lives between the longing for a free and unconventional life and the price one needs to pay when the world has become ‘a hole in the wall’, through where Lockhart wants to take him if and when he finally beats him” (Ferreira da Rocha, 2010 pp 363-379). “It is important to note that McPherson’s work is not as intimately related to Irish folktales as its Irish locations may suggest, but fuses elements extracted from Irish and English traditions, often alluding to twentieth-century re-imaginings of Gothic terror” (Morin, 2014 p 1105).
“Sharky is by far the most taciturn of McPherson’s principals. His speeches are short, halting, and provoked almost always by the simple utility of communication. Sharky never gives an account of himself to an audience, never examining his social being through language in the style so typical of McPherson’s characters” (Maley, 2014 p 220). “McPherson’s characters struggle with responsibility, its inevitable presence and an all-too-human desire to deny it” (Nyisztor, 2013 p 471). “The nonchalant tone of many of McPherson’s plays comes from the characters’ matter-of-fact refusal to admit fault or to see themselves as the cause of their own troubles...The illusion of non-agency in which McPherson’s many alcoholic characters indulge themselves only adds to this moral ambivalence, because alcohol allows them to feel detached from the world and from their own actions” (Grobe, 2007 pp 688-689).
Lockhart “is the stranger intent on making Sharky not renege on his old promise to play him another game of cards for his soul, after Lockhart helped Sharky evade a charge of murder twenty-five years previously, they having met in a holding cell in a police station. This shadow figure represents the disappointments, failures, dark deeds, losses, fear, dread, and poor choices that bring an additional brooding quality to Sharky’s consciousness. Mr Lockhart is anti-music, anti-sing-song, anti-celebration, and anti-Christmas. He has a (sinister) purpose but he has no joy, much like the narrator in St Nicholas (1997). Mr Lockhart’s mindset is almost the opposite of that of the revelers, who want to make as much as they can of the festivities, apart from Sharky, who is not quite sure what he wants. That said, Mr Lockhart is a cut-out figure, horrific, omnipotent, and malevolent as well as melodramatic, even comedically pathetic, in his self-aggrandizement. Nicky (a variation on St Nicholas or Nicky as the devil) had previously encountered Mr Lockhart; his memory is, however, as vague as Ivan’s of such a prior encounter. Ivan was previously found not responsible when people died in a hotel fire: his luck was in, and perhaps abetted by Mr Lockhart in evading punishment for his negligence, unintentional or otherwise. After a long night’s drinking, Lockhart seems to have won the final hand of cards. In Sharky’s acceptance of and resignation towards his fate, there is a sense of him facing down responsibilities and debts, but without his glasses, Ivan mistook four aces for four fours, so he did in fact hold the victorious hand. Temporarily defeated, the devil is to disappear until Good Friday when his return will coincide with the death of Jesus…The play is full of the comedy of incompetence, desperation, even chaos, rather than trickery in the face of a fundamental evil. Inadequate patterns of thinking, non-negotiable reflexes, and stupidity rather than insight or consideration drive most behaviors” (Jordan, 2017 pp 63-64).
"The seafarer"[edit | edit source]
Time: 2000s. Place: Baldoyle, Ireland.
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A former fisherman with many other professions to his credit, Sharky is forced to take care of his blind, alcoholic brother, Richard. On the morning of Christmas eve, he finds Richard in a bewildered state after a night of drinking. While Richard struggles to reach the bathroom, his drinking partner, Ivan, shows up from upstairs. Ivan stayed overnight because of his inability to find a taxi and now he is also unable to find his glasses. Sharky has returned from Count Clare on a job driving a developer and his wife, Miriam. Although stinking, Richard refuses to wash, insisting instead on going out to buy festive fare, mainly alcoholic beverages, to celebrate Christmas. While Sharky heads to retrieve his mail, Richard encourages Ivan to find a whiskey bottle; he does and together they drink the remaining quarter off before his return with a Christmas gift from Miriam. After their shopping spree, Sharky is angry at Richard for inviting Nicky over for the evening, a man he hates for his present relation with his ex-girlfriend, Eileen, a man he saw driving the car he loaned to Eileen. Nicky arrives accompanied by Mr Lockhart. Nicky announces that he thought he saw hoodlums sitting on Ivan’s car. Ivan goes out to investigate, accompanied by Nicky and Richard. In Sharky’s view, Lockhart’s face seems vaguely familiar, but the latter knows exactly who Sharky is. “I’ve seen all your hopeless thoughts buried there,” he specifies, “screwed up in your stupid scrunched-up face.” He knows that Sharky lost his driving job because of his interest toward Miriam. Lockhart and Sharky met in a prison cell 25 years ago, where, after killing a man, Sharky gained his freedom by winning a poker match against Lockhart, who organized his release. Sharky uncertainly disputes that the man died; Lockhart is sure he did and now wants a chance to play again. “I want your soul,” he specifies. Sharky is dumbfounded, then collapses and weeps. Meanwhile, Nicky returns enthused over the feats of Richard and Ivan, who succeeded in ridding themselves of the thugs. That evening, all five play poker, Richard and Ivan forming a team because of the former’s blindness. Lockhart and Ivan are winning mostly at Nicky’s expense. Nicky loses again when he expects Sharky to fold as he and Lockhart bluff. Instead, Sharky wins a big pot with only a pair of fours. A bang is heard at the back-door and so out goes Richard, Ivan, and Nicky again to chase away the thugs. Sharky becomes angry at Nicky when the name of Eileen is mentioned and hits him, but is restrained by Ivan. All nevertheless play a last hand. Stakes are too high for Nicky, forced to fold. Sharky has 4 eights to Ivan’s 4 fours, but Lockhart beats them with 4 tens. When Ivan returns from the toilet, he finds his glasses and discovers that he won with 4 aces, not holding the 4 fours he thought he had. “Perhaps we’ll play again some time,” Lockhart suggests to Sharky, “when my luck changes, or yours does.”