The case for onstage violence.

The case for onstage violence.

The case for onstage violence.

Behind the scenes.
May 3 2006 12:47 PM

Break a Leg!

No, really, break it. We need more violence onstage.

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But after watching play after play in which all the fighting takes place behind closed doors, it's strangely exhilarating to see naked cruelty right before our eyes. Compare the mere talk of violence to a chilling moment in Deborah Warner's 2002 Broadway production of Medea. When Fiona Shaw, as the title character, went behind a translucent wall to kill her kids, we shuddered as a streak of blood splattered across the glass from within.

Writing in the New York Times, Caryn James argued that stage violence is inevitably less realistic than it is on film, and that in Inishmore it's "cartoonish." The shootout in Inishmore certainly has an element of absurdity, but so do the works of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, two action-movie masterminds to whom McDonagh is often compared.


For all the talk of attracting young people to the theater, producers have completely ignored the escapist thrills of action and horror that send kids flocking to the multiplex and turning on their TV sets. No wonder musical spectacles dominate the Broadway box office. McDonagh is one of the few contemporary playwrights whose plays actually make money. Inishmore could give him three commercial Broadway hits in four tries—an astounding feat for a young writer.

So, bring forth the Max Fischer of Broadway, an impresario who will find a story of good guys chasing bad guys, hire some pyros, throw in a ton of cash, and take us on the ride of our lives. Harvey Weinstein is currently adapting Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon into an epic martial-arts musical. Some might see a show like that as a cynical attempt to bring in the masses, and it might not end up as artful, funny, poignant, or human as McDonagh's plays. But as the purists run and hide, I'll be sitting in seat A1. And I won't need any coffee.

Zachary Pincus-Roth is a writer in Los Angeles who has written about entertainment for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Variety, and other publications.