Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It's a violent and funny play about a black cat

and I really, really wish I could see it: in the New Yorker John Lahr reviews Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore (oh, sad to say it's only running through April 9, that's no good).

There was a great profile of McDonagh last week in the New Yorker by Fintan O'Toole (whose biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a fabulously good read). I think it's not available online, but here's my favorite paragraph (describing the playwright watching the rehearsals at the Atlantic Theatre Company):

For five weeks, he sat in the rehearsal room, at a small wooden table to the right of the director, Wilson Milam, in a state of high anxiety. He stared at the actors, pursed his lips, narrowed his eyes, and nervously rubbed his forehead. He often frowned as if displeased by what he was observing. One afternoon, the costume designer, Theresa Squire, and her assistants proposed that Domhnall Gleeson, the actor who plays Davey, a gormless seventeen-year-old who has the task of caring for the terrorist's cat, Wee Thomas, wear a T-shirt bearing the logo for "Cat Scratch Fever," a recording by the heavy-metal band Motorhead. The costume designers were excited by the idea; the song's title, they pointed out, could be understood as an allusion to Wee Thomas, and during one scene Davey sings a few lines of another Motorhead song. McDonagh, however, didn't appreciate the cleverness. Davey is "not cool," he said. "He rides around on his mammy's bike. This looks like it's striving to be a heavy-metal look. He doesn't have heavy-metal friends. What shops could he go to to buy this kind of stuff? It's just saying too much."

That's the kind of attention to detail I approve of. It makes me crazy when I read a bad novel and it's full of jarring details--you know, where the character orders something in a restaurant that is just distractingly random, neither interestingly against type nor wallpaperly what you'd expect. (NB hint to male authors writing about youngish present-day urban female characters: if in doubt, make them drink Diet Coke.) I am only half-joking when I say that I think all novels should be read by teams of fact-checkers before they are published; some writers are immensely careless with detail (I am still fuming about a novel I had to stop reading because of a fundamentally unpersuasive use of Huntington's disease as part of its vaguely science-fictional opening premise--no, I'm not talking about Ian McEwan, either), and all the time you see things in movies that are unpersuasive. Part of the appeal of writing novels as opposed to plays is the fantasy of complete control.


  1. Except "Cat Scratch Fever" is by Ted Nugent...isn't it?

  2. Yep, but a quick web search provides this link: it's covered by Motorhead & several others too... (and I think the careful language "recording" probably means that someone fact-checked that & realized the song is not literally 'by' Motorhead)