The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh takes place in the isolated Aran Islands, off the coast of Ireland, in 1934. The familiar rhythms of life on the island of Inishmaan are disrupted when news that a Hollywood film crew has arrived to make a movie about life on a neighboring island.
Many of the Inishmaan’s residents see the chance to take part in the film as a possible way out of Ireland and out of the lives they have always known, but the draw of American film stardom is strongest for Cripple Billy (Josh Adams), an orphaned young man for whom going to America means leaving behind a place where, no matter how many times he asks, everyone calls him “Cripple Billy” instead of just “Billy.”
McDonagh’s play, like much of modern Irish drama, takes as its starting point the landscapes and people of rural Ireland that were explored so thoroughly by early 20th century playwright J.M. Synge and infuses them with black humor, violence, and the struggle to adapt to creeping modernity. Inishmaan, as it is presented in the play, is an isolated world stuck between the way things have always been and the increasing influence of a rapidly changing outside world. Robert Croghan’s costumes beautifully create the visual landscape of this world, and Tony Starnes’ projections help create the crucial scene in which the characters finally get to watch the film that was made about their home.
Both the director’s and the dramaturg’s notes compare aspects of The Cripple of Inishmaan to the works of Samuel Beckett. This comparison is carried into the world of the play in the direction of Billy’s two aunts, Eileen and Kate (Nanna Ingvarsson and Jennifer Mendenhall.)
The two women perform highly stylized synchronized movements, infused with long pauses and exaggerated facial expressions, whenever they are together on stage. However, that same style of performance is not carried through in the direction of the other characters: when they are joined by Johnnypateenmike (Matt Dougherty), the effect is jarring. His character is played in a broad, slapstick style that seems to come from another play entirely.
THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN
October 25 – November 29, 2015
at Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
2 hours, 45 minutes with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $35 – $45
As the three characters discuss Johnnypattenmike’s news of the film crews arrival early in the play, it is hard for the audience to understand the play’s intended tone. Later in the play other characters are played realistically and set against some aggressive Vaudeville style mugging worthy of the late Milton Berle. These choices would seem to be intentional, directorial ones by Robert McNamara, perhaps intended to heighten the sense that McDonagh’s play encapsulates all of the past styles of Irish drama, but the final effect is to undermine McDonagh’s language and make for some loud, confused (and confusing) scenes, especially when Billy or Babbybobby (Christian Sullivan), both played realistically interact with the characters who are played Beckett-style or Stage Irish-style .
Throughout the play, scenes are rife with long, intentional pauses, sometimes filled in with comedic business, sometimes with Beckett-like choreographed facial expressions. Because of these choices, the rhythm and comedy of McDonagh’s language is often lost. When the humor of the play does occasionally shine through, it is clear that this production is a lost opportunity; the cast obviously contains several very talented actors whose good work is ultimately disguised by the misguided stylization of the direction.
Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh . Directed by Robert McNamara . Featuring Josh Adams, Kevin Collins, Megan Dominy, Matt Dougherty, Nanna Ingvarsson, Jennifer Mendenhall, David Paglin, Christian Sullivan, and Mary Suib . Set Design: Michael Stepowany . Light Design: Marianne Meadows . Sound Design: Denise Renee . Costume Design: Robert Croghan . Projection Design: Tony Starnes . Prop Design: Cassandra Schulz . Assistant Director: Helen Aberger . Dialect Coach: Jessica Hansen . Fight Choreographer: Paul Gallagher. Dramaturg: Anne Nottage . Stage Manager: Jocelyn Callister . Produced by Scena. Reviewed by Jessica Pearson.