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The torture of performing Inishmore

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It's going to be like a Quentin Tarantino film onstage every night, says actor Brett Gentile, the crazed IRA torturer. Two dead cats, nearly three gallons of blood, and 29 rounds of ammo fired off at every performance says Actor's Theatre of Charlotte artistic director Chip Decker, the guy responsible for sweating the SFX all summer long.

And though he must hang upside-down for a full 12 minutes portraying the tortured drug dealer, David Blamy insists he's not insane for accepting his role in Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The Irish playwright's fiercest, funniest work opens for previews at 650 E. Stonewall St. on Sept. 19 and continues to detonate through Oct. 11.

"When I read this script," says Blamy, "I knew I wanted to be a part of it in any way, shape or form."

Obviously! When we spoke with the sturdy actor on Aug. 1, he was bracing himself for rehearsing the full 12-minute torture scene for the first time. Using a special inversion table, purchased especially for this project, Blamy has gradually built up his endurance.

"This is far and away the most physically demanding thing that I've had to even think about doing," he attests. "It's kind of like training for a marathon."

Wild and crazy as it is -- with dead cats, dismembered corpses, and Frosted Flakes on its props list -- Inishmore is a logical sequel for Actor's Theatre, which snagged CL's 2007 Show of the Year honors with their production of McDonagh's The Pillowman last fall.

"Pillowman had that nice dark timbre to it," says Decker. "This has that, but it's got so much humor. You catch yourself laughing and going, 'Oh, shit! What am I laughing at here? You got to be kidding me!' So it's a great opening piece for us, marvelously written, incredibly gruesome, and just laugh-out-loud, pee-in-your-pants funny."

Dispensing a mere crocodile tear for Blamy's upside-down ordeal, Decker freely admits that normal rehearsal protocol must be tossed aside. Analysis and discussion are reserved for before or after that strenuous scene is run. You can't stop in the middle to mull over a moment while Dave is turning purple and his eyes begin bugging out.

"I start reciting lines from other plays ...!" Blamy jokes.

Over the past five seasons, Gentile has proven to be equally adept -- and hilarious -- in thuggish or patsy roles. In Inishmore, he'll be starring as Mad Padraic, who breaks away from the IRA to form his own splinter cell. While three IRA hitmen -- Robert Simmons, Caleb Moore, and Blamy in an upside-up role -- seek to track down and punish Padraic for his defection, the heartless sociopath is on the rampage because his heart has been broken.

News has reached him that Wee Thomas has fallen ill, and someone -- anyone -- must pay. Craig Spradley as Padraic's dad will be quaking in terror because Wee Thomas was entrusted to his care. The one soft spot in Padraic's heart is for his tomcat.

So, yes: Padraic figures to rank high among Gentile's repellent, buffoonish and thuggish stage exploits. Inishmore marks his fourth go-round with McDonagh, and Gentile is far from jaded.

"This is by far the most fucking ridiculous thing that I've ever read of his -- and by ridiculous, I mean brilliant," he pontificates. "My favorite is still The Pillowman, just because it has that dark edge to it. But this reminds me of a Tarantino film on stage. Just the gore and the sheer idiocy of these people! This is by far the most heinous McDonagh role that I've ever even tried to tackle. I did do The Lonesome West with the two brothers, Valene and Coleman. I played Coleman, who chopped the ears off his brother's dog when they were kids to shut the dog up and then exposes it to him in a paper bag that he keeps in the closet. But that ain't got shit on this."

Without preaching, Inishmore is a merciless deconstruct of "The Troubles" that have long plagued Ireland. From the beginning, McDonagh strips away the notion that righteous precepts inspire the storied struggles between Protestants and Catholics. "Are you out of your mind?" he seems to say. "This is Ireland! How could you begin to believe that a nation of brutes and drunkards is capable of principled religious conflict?"

"You're exactly right," says Decker of that interpretation. "He doesn't cast a good light on anybody. If you're involved in this in one way or another -- and you can apply it to the current administration -- who's the terrorist here? Is it Saddam Hussein or is it George W. Bush? It really doesn't matter who it is, it's all, in the end, pointless. We have death and destruction all around us, and what is the final outcome?"

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