On Jan. 31, 2008, Orlando Weekly published the very first edition of Live Active Cultures, and no one is more surprised than I that you're still reading 10 years later. To celebrate the start of my second decade, I'm finally combining two of my all-time favorite topics into a single column: cats and carnage. The only thing I love more than a gory movie full of stomach-churning splatter is watching one while cuddling my faithful feline companion, who always snuggles me through the slaughter when my wife flees in disgust. Hopefully I'm not alone in appreciating this perverse pairing, because my recent sneak preview of the anticipated Orlando-area premiere of The Lieutenant of Inishmore provided me a long-awaited opportunity to explore the intersection of horrific special effects and adorable kitties.
If you're familiar with playwright Martin MacDonagh's acclaimed other works for stage (Lonesome West, The Pillowman) and screen (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) then you've had a taste of his talent for caustic black comedy. But nothing can really prepare you for Inishmore's outrageous cocktail of ultra-violence and political satire, which left me stunned when I saw the original Broadway production in 2006. I've been wishing for a local production longer than I've been writing LAC, and now that it's being staged at the Garden Theatre (Feb. 2-25, gardentheatre.org), I only hope the heart attack rate in Winter Garden doesn't skyrocket.
My Inishmore preview tour began at AEO Studios, the mad-scientist laboratory masterminded by makeup and effects artist Alan Ostrander. Ostrander's outfit has been operating in Orlando for 21 years, "creating everything from demons to divas," as he likes to say. A self-proclaimed theater brat who "grew up" on the Civic [now Orlando Rep] stage, he started doing makeup in high school, finding his niche in Halloween and horror. Ostrander designed characters for Terror on Church Street and the first Fright Nights at Universal Studios Florida before introducing spooky celebrations to China's Ocean Park in 2001, earning him the nickname "Hong Kong's father of Halloween." His company now creates everything from corpses for film and television to ogre hands and heads for the Shrek musical. "We get the calls for things that no one can find," says Ostrander. "It's something different every day."
For The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Ostrander has [SPOILER ALERT] built a bevy of dead bodies, both human and feline. I got to examine a couple of expired cats in various stages of construction, from foam bodies and faux fur to hand-painted eyeballs. He's also cooking up multiple batches of stage blood ("squirt blood that flies through the air, thick blood paste that doesn't run everywhere, static gelatin blood to pre-treat the body parts") along with explosive air-power effects like a "kitty cannon" for when the fur starts to fly. Ostrander jokes that "we're going to get letters" about the gruesome gags, and insists that while he "wants the audience leaving the theater shaking their head at 'how did they do that,'" he also wants to assure everyone that no real cats were harmed in the making of this show, "though I've almost volunteered my own a couple times when they acted up."
That leads us into Part Two of my Inishmore preview, an exclusive interview with Dr. Bombay, the cat playing the key role of Wee Thomas. A handsome black 3-year-old male, this star in the making has his own dressing room (which he graciously allows his co-star Rachel Comeau to share), but we chatted on a backstage couch while his bipedal castmates prepared for rehearsal. Beth Marshall, who also happens to be the play's producer, served as interpreter for our conversation, which covered his audition process ("I had to beat out a lot of other cats, including Onyx, who was trained and owned by the producer. I won because I'm that badass"), his wide acting range ("I'm only 3 years old, but playing 15") and his motivation as a performer ("It's all about the green, baby. I like Greenies natural cat treats").
Dr. Bombay has experienced some friction with a few colleagues ("I almost scratched Don Fowler [who plays Donny] because he was yelling") but generally remains cool under pressure: "Considering there are guns pointed at me, I think I'm pretty chill." Joseph Fabian, who plays Davey, praises Bombay as a giving scene partner, saying, "It takes some adjustment for him being in the space, but once he got used to it we sat down and had a really nice conversation." Fabian admits that "the one thing you always have to be careful of is that he will upstage you, but that's OK because he's the focus."
Marshall is a fellow Halloween fanatic, and almost as much of a crazy cat lady as I am, so it's fitting that Inishmore will be her company's 15th and final ("for now") production at the Garden Theatre, which is shifting to internally produced shows. "It's been 10 years here; it's a good time to transition, and a good show to go out on," says Marshall, adding that she's looking forward to her next season featuring exclusively female playwrights. Wherever Marshall lands next, I'm sure it will be on her feet, in full feline fashion.