Every year, without fail, Genesis West tackles some truly transgressive contemporary play with all the gusto and professionalism of a main stage production in a big regional theater. Of course, when you’re doing a show about a man who’s in love with a goat, you don’t necessarily need to book the Arlington. Center Stage will do. But despite the relative intimacy of a Genesis West production, there’s never a hint of artistic compromise. These are the top actors in the city, and they are here because they know Genesis West is often their best chance to find their outer limits.
From the title, The Lieutenant of Inishmore sounds innocent enough, but anyone familiar with the work of internationally acclaimed and London-based playwright Martin McDonagh knows just how dead wrong such first impressions can be. For McDonagh, who grew up in London and learned to be Irish from The Pogues, Irishness is a kind of minstrelsy, and the occasion for flights into the darkest, most outrageous corners of the psyche. The Lieutenant of Inishmore follows a rogue IRA enforcer (Joe Jordan) driven to emotional breakdown by the death of his pet cat. Along with Jordan in the cast are the equally formidable Tom Hinshaw and Brian Harwell. Harwell will perform a stunt that it would be a shame to spoil and that you definitely won’t see in any other show this season-or possibly ever.
When I spoke with director Maurie Lord recently, the conversation ranged widely, from the vagaries of AT&T voicemail to the virtues of Sam Peckinpah. The following are just two of my favorite snippets from our talk.
So, are you going to have a live cat onstage? It took me a while to make up my mind, but I’ve decided not to use a real cat. I went to this million-dollar production of Inishmore in Berkeley and they had a live cat, and a cat wrangler, and the cat had to be at least two rooms away when the gun went off, and it just didn’t look like something that would be within my budget. Besides, when I thought about it, it didn’t seem like the point. A real cat is not part of what I’m aiming for. In fact, what I decided is that it should be a fake cat.
You work with some of the best actors in town, and you work with them year in and year out. Do you find that knowing each other so well helps you achieve what you set out to do? I certainly appreciate these great actors that I know well, but on another level, I try to avoid working only with people I already know, because then it becomes like a family, with all the good and bad things that come along with that. So you don’t really want everyone to be familiar, even though it is good to have a few people on hand who communicate with me by a kind of shorthand. But I have two totally new people in the show this time, both of them from the City College theater program. Josh Jenkins is a City College student, and he’s 6‘4”, so I think that makes this the tallest production of Inishmore ever. And then there’s Rebecca Ridenour, who is also great.
The Lieutenant of Inishmore opens at Center Stage Theater on Friday, November 6, and runs on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. through November 21. For tickets and information, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.