Before seeing The Lieutenant of Inishmore in 2006, I never expected to see a character in a Broadway play get shot in the head. Gunfire in plays generally happens offstage. Even when the shooting occurs in view of the audience, the sound effect is what gets our attention as the actor collapses, hit by an imaginary bullet. A pistol pointed at someone’s head is an empty threat. Or so I once assumed.
The playwright Martin McDonagh took the stage by storm with a now legendary burst of creativity—six hit plays, drafted in a single nine-month period and staged in Dublin, London, and New York from 1996 to 2006. By the time Inishmore arrived on Broadway, audiences were familiar with McDonagh’s signature blend of comedy, violence, and cruelty. Inishmore raised the stakes again with the grisly story of an Irish patriot, Padraic, whose violent streak was too extreme for the IRA. By the end of each performance, the stage was so slick with “blood” that the actors glided across it like ice skaters. Even so, when I saw a gun aimed at Padraic’s head, I didn’t expect the actress holding it to pull the trigger. She did. I well remember the shock of that moment, of seeing the actress get hit with a splatter of bright red stage blood. More shocking still, I remember the audience, including me, shrieking with laughter.