Kerry Condon, Andrew Connolly, Laurence Kinlan, Dearbhla Molloy, Aaron Monaghan, Marie Mullen, Patricia O’Connell, David Pearse, John C. Vennema
Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan, last seen in New York ten years ago at the Public Theater, is back again with a vengeance.
The play, in a joint production by New York’s Atlantic Theater Company and Ireland’s Druid Theatre Company, is directed by the latter’s artistic director, Garry Hynes, who brings a distinctly Irish flavor and authenticity to the proceedings.
Playwright McDonagh, whose work has been seen frequently on and off-Broadway in the past fifteen years, has carved for himself a distinctly dark and Irish niche in modern theatre.
Productions of his plays have been nominated for the Best Play Tony Award four times since 1996; if this one were to transfer, I’m fairly certain he’d earn yet another nomination.
In The Cripple of Inishmaan, consistently jet black and bitingly funny, we’re introduced to an idiosycratic bunch of rural Irish folk. There are dowdy shop owners Kate and Eileen, town gossip JohnnyPateen, foolish Bartley and his wicked sister Helen, the mysterious BabbyBobby, and a handful of others. These are people with lives of relatively limited means and workaday jobs who dream of little more than living hand-to-mouth until film crews arrive on a nearby island scouting for cast members for an upcoming movie to be titled Man of Aran.
At the center of the drama is Billy, a crippled orphan boy in the care of Kate and Eileen, who’ve taken him under their wing out of a well-meaning mixture of pity and love. Billy feels constrained by his lot in life, so he takes matters into his own hands, plotting to join the overnight boat crew who are setting out to find the film’s producers. His success or failure depends on their willingness to hire a disabled actor for a part in their film, a gamble that seems unlikely at first to yield any tangible benefits.
What’s so thrilling about Cripple is its capacity to throw an audience for a loop and keep us interested in the human drama on hand. Billy is a multi-faceted character we can all understand, someone for whom the limitations of life seem simultaneously insurmountable obstacles and readily toppled road bumps. The cast, including but not limited to the talented, able-bodied Aaron Monaghan as Billy, aid in the thrill of the surprise as the twists and turns propel the play closer to its finale.
Eerily atmospheric lighting by Davy Cunningham, particularly during the play’s final moments, heightens the mood of the production invaulably in conjuction with Francis O’Connor’s adaptable sets, which allow for the Linda Gross Theater’s small stage to adapt from indoor to outdoor settings with ease.
Unlike a good many of McDonagh’s plays, there is no extreme violence to be reported (besides for a few bruises and scrapes); the focus is instead on characters and plot development. Some may find the careful, calculated plot progression somewhat light on physical action, but those who’ve been raring for a good old-fashioned yarn are in for a treat. It’s McDonagh’s words which are on display here, complete with full-bodied Irish brogues – a tall, heady treat on a frosty midwinter’s night that shouldn’t be missed by serious theatergoers.