As a newly inducted member of the Outer Critics Circle, I am playing catch up with seeing shows that heretofore I could not get a press ticket to review. The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh, written in 1999 opened last December – a joint production of the Atlantic Theater Company and the Druid Theatre Company at the Linda Gross Theater and has extended its run twice – now running through March 15th, 2009. And for a very good reason. It’s an excellent production.
Mr. McDonagh has a wonderful lyrical style of writing which can be darkly humorous. In The Cripple of Inishmaan which takes place in 1934 on the Island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland he has the place populated with a curious mix of characters which allow the extraordinary ensemble company to portray their individual eccentricities to a tee which director Garry Hynes helps bring to vivid life.
The two “aunties” Kate (Marie Mullen) the more negative of the two who can speak to a stone and have it reply and Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) who cannot resist pilfering the sweets sent from America are forever worrying about Billy the Cripple (Aaron Monaghan) – who is in their care after both his parents died in a boating accident. Or did they? Billy the Cripple is unattractive and misshapen and spends his time wheezing and limping, reading, looking at cows, and trying to muster up enough courage to date Helen (Kerry Condon) the beautiful, tough and foul mouthed sister of Bartley (Laurence Kinlan) who has a tough time deciding on which candy he wants to choose and is forever being brow beaten by his sister.
It’s a boring life in this town. The General Store that the aunties run is stocked with mostly peas and eggs and there is not much to do. So gossip is always welcomed. But at a price. JohnnyPateenMike (David Pearse) is willing to deliver his very important choice bits of news for a slab of bacon or a can of peas or some eggs to help him out as he is caretaker of his ninety year old mom – Mammy (Patricia O’Connell) who likes to argue with her son and have a few shots of whiskey to get her heart started in the morning. Mr. Pearse, with a single breath, can deliver the longest commentary of uninteresting local news. That is, until he reveals that a film company from America has arrived to make a documentary – The Man of Aran.
Billy wants to audition. And so he persuades BabbyBobby (Andrew Connolly) who has a boat to take him and Helen and Bartley off Island to try to get into the picture. He does so by delivering a letter from the Doctor (John C. Vennema). Has Billy got only three months to live? Will he get the part? Will he go to America or die? Does he ever get to kiss Helen? Will Mammy ever stop berating her son? Will Mammy live forever? Will we see blood shed? Eggs crushed? Will we learn the truth about Billy’s parents?
They say the most horrible things to Billy the Cripple who only wants to be known as Billy. We shouldn’t laugh but we do. Aaron Monaghan’s performance is flawless. How he doesn’t break his ankle is amazing. He has a depth of character and his inner soul shines through. He is heartbreaking and funny. Mr. McDonagh has written him a beautiful part that twists and turns as much as his malformed feet – we never quite know what the truth is and where we are headed – but we are moved and enlightened during this incredible journey to the Island of Inishmann.