The Closing of the Irish-American Mind (& the latest McDonagh play on Bway)



Come all ye young rebels, and list while I sing,

For the love of one’s country is a terrible thing.
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame,
And it makes us all part of the patriot game.

– Dominic Behan


�People have always asked me the strange and annoying question: �What are you?� Sometimes people see that I am Indian (but never Irish); sometimes they think I am Lebanese, Mexican, Portuguese (but never Irish). In my youth I longed to have what I perceived as the stability of being �one thing.� I felt the insipid social pressure, the myth that to be of two cultures is to be somehow confused.�

~ from the author�s note at the
end of the short story
�Bing-Chen� by Neela Vaswani
published in Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience
Edited by Chandra Prasad
Introduction by Rebecca Walker
W.M. Norton
New York * London & Company
$15.95 USA $21.00 Can.


A few years back, I went to the UK for Jo Osinski�s wedding. While I was there, I caught the West End premier of LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE by Martin McDonagh. My friend Allen came with me along with Sarah Cameron and this hot film producer chick who I can recall down to the color of her shoes . . . only her name escapes me at present. These guys are civilians as opposed to the full-fledged theater asshole that accompanied them . . . ergo I was in charge of purchasing the tickets. It being a new play, I was unaware of the amount of gore involved� perhaps otherwise I would not have chosen front-row seats.

This London production of T.L.O.I. was a little clunky. The guns kept misfiring requiring the actors to pull the hammers back manually to re-shoot. This was particularly difficult for the little girl playing Mairead who wields two large handguns to blow the head off her true love. For this penultimate moment, the back of a reclining chair was spring-loaded with a large blood pack.

When the chair discharged, the effect is like that of explosive diarrhea or power-vomiting� a cone shaped blast of viscous red liquid instantaneously drenches the actress from her knees to the top of her head. In the New York production the blast left a silhouette on the back wall reminiscent of cartoons where the characters have bombs blow up in their faces.

However, the guns were not the only thing misfiring that evening in London. A good-sized stream of blood from the recliner landed on all three of my guests. Sarah thought she had avoided the projectile of red goo until she reached into her purse. Her cell phone was dripping wet with dyed cornstarch. They were really good-natured about it all (read: British) plus it makes for a good story. They all had this exhilarated yet baffled expression on their faces. It was as if they meant to ask, �Does this happen all the time?� Sadly, no. Unless, of course, you are a Gwar fan.


Ok. Back it up. THE LIETENANT OF INSISMORE just closed it�s Broadway run yesterday. The play�s author, Martin McDonagh, has written a slew of transcontinental hits including THE PILLOWMAN, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN , THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE and THE LONESOME WEST. McDonagh is to contemporary Irish playwriting as Bob Dylan was to folk singing: a monopoly.

Mr.McDonagh has been compared to Quentin Tarantino for his propensity to graphic violence. His plays are generally of the slice-of-life variety whereas THE PILLOWMAN launches us into theatricality by way of macabre children�s stories. McDonagh is a master of Aristotelian form containing fascinating heavy-accented characters who utter dialogue that vacillates from the banal (�feck� is how the characters pronounce �fuck�) to the sublime (�The story was going to finish that way, but was of course cut short by a bullet blowing his brains out two seconds too soon.�)

T.L.O.I. lampoons Irish terrorists associated with the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) which, by its nature, has many subdivisions and splinter groups. McDonagh achieves his parody by having one such group known as The Irish National Liberation Army (I.N.L.A.) assassinate the pet cat of one of it�s unruly members in the hopes they can murder him when he returns home. Padriac, the owner of said cat and the title-character of the play, is a bit thick but has a gift for murder and torture. So, as he is about to cut off the nipples of a guy who sells pot to high schoolers, his father calls to say his cat �was poorly� and �off his food.� Padriac rushes home where he falls for Mairead who . . . well, you read the bit about the exploding Lay-Z-Boy. You can fill in the gaps.


I have been encouraged not to procreate. Be fruitful and stay the fuck away from my daughter, you weird no-job having freak of indeterminate ethnic background. If things keep going this way I am sure there will be a Class Action Suit demanding my vasectomy. The plaintiffs will consist of all of my �Exes, a handful of actors, and definitely more than one stagemanager. The Technical Directors of Bard College and the University of Rochester will provide security for this pageant of prosecution.


My grandfather on my father�s side died in his 40�s of the �Irish Flu.� I never met him. From what I�ve heard he was a big man who could fix anything. He came over here from County Wicklow to find my grandmother who was scraping by as a cleaning lady. This is when posh stores posted signs that read �No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs.� Someone told him that he could find work in Brooklyn. He walked across the Brooklyn Bridge because he couldn�t afford the ten cents it cost to ride the subway. It was summer and it was hot. When he got to other side he went into a drug store and asked for a glass of water. The proprietor told him flatly, �We don�t sell water here.� He got a job shoveling coal.

He went on to learn how to repair refrigerators and eventually started his own business. He had a great fondness for black cats, which are typically bad luck. As a child, I was always terrified whenever one would cross my path. But the only ill fortune that resulted from my grandfather�s love of these particular animals fell on the cats themselves. All of the felines he acquired died horrible deaths; one was poisoned, the other was impaled on fence . . . . Perhaps he gave �em up out of heartbreak or maybe it was fear that they might become extinct in his attempt to care for them. Hmmmmm?

What else? Oh yeah . . . my own father was definitely knee-high, tugging on his dad�s pant leg on more than one occasion as they passed the hat around the bar for the I.R.A. Ireland being free prolly meant more to a bunch of drunk micks than it ever could to the second and third generations that came after�.


Admittedly, my knowledge of Irish history is peripheral at best. So after I saw T.L.O.I. this time around I consulted Wikipedia regarding the I.R.A….

Things get complicated in 1921 when the I.R.A. took on strong opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty:

The situation became even more fractured in 1969, when I.R.A. split into at least four different groups. Here is a good list:

The conflict between Ireland and England is complicated by religion . . . to quote Wikipedia:

�Northern Ireland has been for many years the site of a violent and bitter ethno-political conflict between those claiming to represent Nationalists (who are predominantly Catholic and want it to be unified with the Republic of Ireland) and those claiming to represent Unionists (who are predominantly Protestant and want it to remain part of the United Kingdom). Unionists are in the majority in Northern Ireland, though Nationalists do represent a significant minority.�

Another jumping off place is Sinn F�in, the largest nationalist political party in Northern Ireland:�in

I was also surprised to learn that the I.N.L.A., which is made fun of directly in T.L.O.I., is a real organization:


I dig it. There is a scene in T.L.O.I. where the meek character of Davey is tied up and has his hair shorn by Padriac. Davey wears his hair long as he is a fan of Motorhead. He takes a great deal of abuse throughout the play but the cutting of his hair inspires him to stand-up for himself in the face of certain slaughter. Padriac, in turn, is hell-bent on killing Davey as retribution for killing his cat.

Perhaps we need to see people willing to kill and be killed for asinine reasons the same way 1940�s audiences laughed at Noel Coward�s send-up on death in BLITHE SPIRIT. Their boys were coming home in pine boxes or sans limbs. Old England wasn�t so merry in those days . . . yet they went to the theater to find solace in a comedy of dead manners.

Yes, I laughed at the dumb jokes and scratched my head as I tried to remember the story of the Guilford Four and kicked myself for not going to The Pogues concert with my sister and my cousin Patrick last year.

What saddens me is that�s where it seems to end. Nowhere online, not in the reviews, the blogs, not even John Lahr�s piece in the New Yorker were there any thoughts or parallels to past or present politics. Unless you count all the hugely reductive ways one can use �terror� in a sentence. If the Internet is the Village of Sodom, where is my one good man? Where is Lot? Where is the one person who didn�t like the play because the way in which Irish history was handled???


If I did have kids, I can�t help but wonder if they would feel my same mild amusement alongside profound concern upon seeing a play such as THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE. (Seeing how they would undoubtedly be bi-polar the answer is without a doubt, “Yes!”) SUICIDE BOMBER, THE MUSICAL . . . THE SATANIC VERSES ON ICE . . . MUQTADA AL-SADR as CHARLOTTE VON MAHLSDORF in I AM MY OWN WIFE directed by THEODORE KACZYNSKI !!!

After all the death and fear and sadness that has resulted from England�s occupation of Ireland, the virtual elimination of the Irish language plus the permanent fracturing of a deep, proud culture such as theirs . . . after all this, all we get on this end is a well-made blood-soaked farce. Maybe that�s all we should get? If people get the governments they deserve . . . why not the theater???


When you drop a shot of whiskey into half a pint of Guinness it�s called a Boiler Maker or even a Depth Charge. Don�t go into a bar and order a Car Bomb. If I am the one serving, you�ll be picking up your teeth with broken fingers.

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