Never come between a terrorist and his cat. That's the lesson behind Martin McDonaugh's dark comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore, opening at Threshold Repertory Theatre this week.
First produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 2001, the play is about Mad Padraic, a hot-tempered member of the Irish National Liberation Army in the 1990s. When Padraic finds out his beloved cat has been killed, he goes on a revenge-fueled rampage, stopping at nothing to find the murderer of his furry friend.
Peter Galle stars in the play as the wild-eyed Padraic. The son of Threshold executive director Pamela Nichols Galle, Peter has been working on getting more involved in the company since graduating from the College of Charleston in 2011. He says he was drawn to the unique technical challenges associated with the violent, bloody production. For example, how do you realistically convey someone being shot point-blank on stage? How do you deal with two live cats in a theater, and how do you show their dead, mangled bodies ... without having to actually kill them?
J.C. Conway performs in the play and has also been working behind the scenes as the production's weapons master and fight choreographer. A member of the Society of American Fight Directors, his focus is making the play's violent bits seem hyper-realistic, whether a victim is being shot in the face or getting his toenails yanked out.
Galle says that they're using five gallons of blood for each show, and that's presented its own set of challenges — how to make it spurt correctly, how to make it safe, how to clean it off the actors. They ultimately settled on two recipes, including an edible one — comprised of Hershey's syrup, red dye, and peanut butter — for the aforementioned toenail scene. The blood is generously applied using an industrial weed sprayer, hence the need for edibility. The other type of blood is made out of baby conditioner and dye; it's being used in the squibs, the miniature explosive devices they're using to show gunshots. Galle says the result of all that blood is a very sticky stage. "It's gross. You gotta go home and take a shower. There's no going out after this show."
Another tricky part of the show involves some special cast members: two live cats. The star felines — Max and Garfield — actually belong to a cast member, and their gory carcasses were created by props master Shana Solomon out of rice stuffed into pantyhose covered in fur. The producers have gone to great lengths to keep the cats safe. When the characters try to disguise a cat by painting it with shoe polish, it'll be wearing a protective vest. "The cats are wonderful," Galle says. "They're very docile and don't move a lot. But if one of them jumped off the stage, we'd have a problem." That's why they've rigged holes through the stage to trade the real-life cats with their rice-stuffed body doubles.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore is not for the faint of heart, but Galle reminds us that it's a comedy at its core. "One of the actors said he found the play very humanizing because you have all these different guys who are killers and they're having normal conversations in a normal tone about different things," Galle says. "That's one of the endearing qualities of the play ... The world is hyper-hyper-extreme, and no world exists like that, but because of the banal, measured conversations, it makes it palatable in a way."