What do you think would be funny about a cripple orphan, a remote town in Ireland and a Hollywood documentary? If you’re thinking how I was thinking, then you’re answer is probably not very much. But like me you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that my first thought was totally off the mark. Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan is a total laugh riot.
McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan is a dark, delightful comedy, think of Peyton Place with razor blade roads. This play is as twisted as Forrest Gump’s back before the braces. Set in the small community of Inis Meáin off the western coast of Ireland circa 1934, McDonagh uses the real life filming of the documentary Man of Aran as the foundation of the play. A Hollywood film crew arrives in the neighboring town of Inis Mór to make a film about life on the islands. The news, carried by town gossip Johnnypateenmike, sets the town ablaze and gives Billy Claven or “Cripple Billy” as he is called by the townsfolk, the idea to finally escape the place that treats him like a poor orphaned outcast. Billy finds out that local bully Helen McCormick has finagled Babbybobby Bennett, a boatman, to sail her and her henpecked brother Bartley over to Inis Mór for an audition. Billy conjures a heartbreaking tale to secure a seat on the voyage and winds up getting the opportunity to take part in a film in California. Billy’s sudden departure puts his adopted aunts Kate and Eileen Osbourne into a tailspin. Kate begins talking to a stone and Eileen devours all the sweets in their shop to try to avoid worrying about the fate of Billy. But you know what they say about the grass being greener, missing home Cripple Billy returns to face the place he tried run from, the hurt that was left in his wake and the secrets that have haunted him no matter where he traveled.
The Cripple of Inishmaan first opened December 12, 1996 at London’s Royal National Theatre. In 1998 the play opened in NYC and L.A. The play returned to London’s West End in 2013 with Michael Grandage at the helm directing and Daniel Radcliffe as Cripple Billy. The production was a hit and fresh off the heels of its sold-out run across the pond, The Cripple of Inishmaan opened at the Cort Theatre on April 20 for a limited 14-week engagement. And this is one engagement that is not to be missed. This play is may be about a cripple, but there is nothing deficient about this production. Daniel Radcliffe truly shines in this revival. The more he sheds his Harry Potter skin the more we are able to witness how his talent has matured. He is a wonder to watch live, whether he is singing and dancing or using a crutch, Mr. Radcliffe is rad! In fact, the whole cast is exceptional. An awesome ensemble, they authentically project the intimate bonds that are created in a small town. Sarah Greene is a terror as Helen McCormick, but as frightening as she is, she is equally as charming. Pádraic Delany radiates brooding appeal as Babbybobby. Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna are equally delightful as Cripple Bobby’s smothering adopted aunts. The zingers delivered by June Watson and Pat Shortt, who play Johnnypateenmike and his alcoholic mom, are absolutely scandalous and some of the best shade (insult throwing for those of you who don’t know) that I’ve heard on stage in a long time. The scene and costume designs created by Christopher Oram transported the audience to that 1930’s Ireland and aided in projecting a close-knit community aesthetic.
Irreverent in all the right ways, The Cripple of Inishmaan is a winner and with the support of a great cast, this production stands with the best that Broadway has to offer this season.
Photos: Johan Persson