Sometimes less is more, so I’m gonna keep it simple, skip a clever intro and cut right to the chase….The Cripple of Inishmaan IS ONE FINE PLAY.
Theater is obviously a highly collaborative art form, but if you don’t have a good plot, you don’t have a play. You can dress a show with wonderful sets, costumes, lighting – (they are all present here) and all these visuals invaluably contribute to a GOOD stage production. But to have a GREAT show, you have to have a tale worth telling. “The Cripple of Inishmaan” not only has a compelling and ultimately moving story, but it has a tremendous comic underscoring which elevates it even further into the stratosphere of fine drama. Indeed, I am not quite certain which comes first – the drama or the comedy, and that is to the playwright’s credit. This play is bubbling with double meaning and double dialogue. When comedy and drama unite such as they do in “The Cripple of Inishmaan” you have both laughter and tears – and sometimes laughter THRU tears – what better way to emote?!
Written by Martin McDonagh, the story takes place in the 1930s on the remote Irish island of Inishmaan and revolves around the singular, physically altered character of “Cripple Billy” remarkably played by Daniel Radcliffe of “Harry Potter” film fame. But no man is an island and though his performance is excellent (he never lets his star power dominate the stage nor the story) it is the exceedingly talented ensemble cast that equally shares the stage and gloriously contribute to the development of the play. Each character is more eccentric then the next (their island world is a small, poor one, how can they be otherwise?) so their humor is inherent and apparent, one person seamlessly sets up the next for the joke and the results are hysterical. But don’t get too comfortable – there is a poignant story to be told here thru these comically, off center personas. They may march to a different drummer but the melodic line is a consistent one, albeit scored with telling sharps and flats. It’s those tangy chromatics that makes it all the more worth hearing.
“Cripple Billy” is a lonely, teenaged, physically deformed orphan whose days seem to be spent watching cows. His parents allegedly drowned themselves soon after his birth, thus he was raised by the kooky, loopy Eileen and Kate (lovingly played by Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie) who eek out a living running a rather dilapidated general store, and comfort themselves by talking to stones. Enter the quirky “Johnnypateenmike” (the entertaining Pat Shortt in a great role) as the local gossip and “newsman” on the island – who earns food by spreading stories – and his spot on presence immediately tells us that tall tales will abound. Some true, some questionable, some deliberately misleading, perhaps some are downright lies….but his gossip is always of interest to the listener. That Irish gift of gab … blessed by the Blarney stone….it never fails to entertain.
Billy learns that a Hollywood movie is being shot on a neighboring island and he is eager to seize this chance at escaping Inishmaan. Perhaps they will hire him as an actor in their film and take him to Hollywood? Stranger things have happened….especially on this particular and peculiar island. The stage is set and ahead lie some shocking revelations.
And so ensues a interestingly odd coming of age tale – seasoned with the back stories of locals such as “Babbybobby” whose young wife died of tuberculosis and the youthful “Helen and Bartley McCormick,” a brother and sister duo who add not only a comic dimension thru Bartley’s incessant sweet tooth, but further the plot thru Helen’s overt behavior and frank talk. And of course there is an Irish “Mammy” so full of comic vitriol, you don’t know whether to laugh, cry … or draw her a pint! Even the Doctor, who should be impartial, comically flavors this tale. As in life, there are always two sides to every story – an Act I and an Act II so to speak. Sometimes these stories intertwine and a balance is achieved … and sometimes not. And so, unlike the characters in “The Cripple of Inishmaan” I’ll say no more except to encourage all UYC readers to experience this play yourself… this is a truly original piece of theater.
And to ensure that as many young theatergoers as possible can do as such, the “Michael Grandage Company” – titled after the play’s remarkable director – promised to offer 10,000 tickets at the affordable price of $27 for the run of the play at the Cort.
Just want to give a shout out to the Lantern’s Keep. Should you have time before or after the show, and are looking for a complete “Inishmaan” evening (and why not?) then stop by the “Lantern’s Keep” at the Iroquois Hotel (49 West 44th Street) as not only do they offer delicious appetizers but have concocted a special cocktail in honor of the “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” You have only to ask and they will tell you what’s in it. I like surprises so I didn’t … but I readily ordered another! Obviously they are doing something right!
By: Joanne Theodorou