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Brett Ryback’s view of “The Lieutenant of Inishmore”

July 9, 2010

“My character is being tortured upside down by Chris Pine’s character, Padraic, the mad man of Ireland. Padraic is basically a psychopath who works for the Irish National Liberation Army, but he’s a psychopath with bizarre principles,” Brett Ryback notes.

Chris Pine and Brett Ryback

“For example he doesn’t believe that drug dealers should be dealing drugs to children and my character is a drug dealer who does that and he goes around and tortures all these drugs dealers. This creates a conflict for the INLA as a whole because a lot of their money comes from drug dealers. So there’s a rift in the organization and that spurs on the dramatic action of the play.

Ryback describes the INLA as “a splinter group off the IRA in the early to mid ‘80s – a lot of fractions that branched off the main organization, which was initially opposed to the British rule in Northern Ireland. As the troubles, as they call them, went on and on it sort of disintegrated into this internal angst and fighting and bizarre actions like people leaving and blowing up other groups and those groups blowing up each other. It degrades into a violent mess of madness and it’s all for nothing. This play explores that in very graphic, gruesome and hysterical detail.”

Martin McDonagh’s dark and graphic satirical work is set in 1993. Padraic the Violent comes home when he gets word that his cat, Wee Thomas, is very ill. I ask whether squeamish audience members will have trouble with the violence, he laughs. “Yeah, probably. In fact, the animals probably get better treatment than the actors, which is only right – you know, actors…. We definitely had people walk out at a very specific point in the show. The funny thing is their walking out actually elicits a better response from the audience because they’re amused those people couldn’t take it.”

Ryback adds, “The show is one of those experiences where you cringe, and you laugh, then you cringe that you laughed. As long as you can have a sense of humor of the awful, awful, gritty details, it can be a lot of fun. But I know some people have a hard time with that because of their principles. Our director [Tony Award-nominee Wilson Milam], after people walked out during a preview said to me, ‘Well, you know, it’s not a show unless people walk out. Anyone can have a show where people stay.’”

That much representation of violence can lead to campiness, can’t it? “It can, but this one doesn’t get campy,” Ryback says. “It’s satirical so it lives in a world of excess. It’s more than what it means. But it never gets campy because you’ve never seen the stuff that happens in this show happen before you on stage – ever.”

He points to Andrew Connolly’s performance on Broadway. “He and the director would talk about the show like it’s a rock concert, especially in Act II. You get these visceral audience responses by the shock value – and ‘shock value’ makes it sound cheap – it’s much more exciting and inventive than that. It reinvigorates them the way a rock concert does.”

Ryback says working with the most recent James T. Kirk is “great.” “Chris is my scene partner, my torturer. He’s a solid and devoted actor, really great fellow actor. He’s very giving and has a lot of fun.”

The Lieutenant of Inishmore opens tonight at the Mark Taper Forum and runs through August 8, 2010. Tickets at 213-628-2772 or at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

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