Shots Fired: Playwright Martin McDonagh Starts Beef, Threatens Ass Kicking in the New York Times


In the great New York Tradition of taking to the press to stir up some shit, there’s this: The Pillowman playwright Martin McDonagh getting profiled in the New York Times for his new play, A Behanding In Spokane. What was buried at the very bottom of it, however, hasn’t really been noted with any press. I’ll bite.

McDonagh was given the ridiculous press line as a “bad boy” of theater long ago, not just for his decidedly bleak, violent, profanity-laced plays, but for the candid interviews he gives (when he gives him), and also, that one time he told Sean Connery to fuck off. Recently, he was lamented in The New Yorker as a racist for a few of the characters in Behanding. Trouble follows the guy’s work. Either he can’t get away from it, or he relishes it.

Count this one as a vote for the latter: he used said New York Times interview to slam the (also Irish and critically lauded) playwright Conor McPherson.

In an interview four years ago Conor McPherson, a Dublin writer of similar stature, questioned how Irish he really was. “More like stage Irish,” he told me.

Mr. McDonagh responded to this comment with a flash of anger, disregarding a pledge he had made minutes before to give up harshly judging other living writers in the press, firing off one of those hilariously belligerent rants that his characters are known for and that can’t possibly be printed here. Translated from the profane to the mundane, he said he was going to beat up Mr. McPherson next time he saw him.

“That’s on the record,” he said, pointing at my recorder. “Seriously, that’s a ludicrous thing to say.

The rest of McDonagh’s quote – about the entitlement of Dublin’s natives – is solid, but doesn’t do justice to whatever McDonagh actually said to the Times. For reader edification, a typical exchange from McDonaugh’s 2008 film In Bruges:

Ken: Harry, let’s face it. And I’m not being funny. I mean no disrespect, but you’re a cunt. You’re a cunt now, and you’ve always been a cunt. And the only thing that’s going to change is that you’re going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.
Harry: [furious] Leave my kids fucking out of it! What have they done? You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!
Ken: I retract that bit about your cunt fucking kids.
Harry: Insult my fucking kids? That’s going overboard, mate!
Ken: I retracted it, didn’t I?

The point being, whatever the New York Times was too squeamish to print, it was probably pretty great. At the very least, it’s great publicity for the show (and theater at large). And at best, it’s an old-school callback to the time when New York’s literary blood feuds – the death of which was mourned in the New York Observer in 2008 – was alive and well. Sounds like it might still be.