Friday, September 16, 2011

The Cripple of Inishmaan (and tour)

Tadhg Murphy and Laurence Kinlan from the tour. Photo by Robert Day.

[Here's a review of a show I saw more than two years ago then again this year on tour. I figured since it's the best thing I've ever seen on stage, I'd better at least say something about it here.]

As you may have noticed, I've seen a ton of shows, by a lot of authors, presented by a bunch of Broadway teams and off-Broadway and regional theater companies. So far this year, I've seen 58 different productions. So I hope it carries some weight when I say that the Atlantic Theater's presentation of the Druid's 2009 production of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Atlantic Theater Company is the best thing I have ever seen on stage.

If you've read any of my previous reviews, you may also have gathered that even when I love a show, I always have at least a few complaints. Not so with Cripple. The production at the Atlantic was flawless in every aspect, from casting to set design to script. I'm so in love with it that I saw it again when ArtsEmerson brought the Druid tour to Boston. It was still excellent (though not perfect), and I'm so glad I got to experience it again.

McDonagh is a fecking brilliant playwright. He may be my favorite playwright, in fact. (I also love the less-violent but also profane Conor McPherson a ridiculous amount.) McDonagh's work is shockingly dark, blisteringly funny, brutal, curse-strewn, and more than a little twisted. (I have still not recovered from reading The Pillowman and cannot even imagine surviving seeing it performed. The Lieutenant of Inishmore is the opposite--it wrecked me when I read it, but on stage I found it more bearable--and very funny.) If you have not seen his brilliant movie In Bruges, go rent it. Now.

This description of Cripple is shamefully stolen from because I am incapable of brevity:
In 1934, the people of Inishmaan learn that the Hollywood director Robert Flaherty is coming to the neighboring island to film a documentary. No one is more excited than Cripple Billy, an unloved boy whose chief occupation has been grazing at cows and yearning for a girl who wants no part of him. For Billy is determined to cross the sea and audition for the Yank. And as news of his audacity ripples through his rumor-starved community, The Cripple of Inishmaan becomes a merciless portrayal of a world so comically cramped and mean-spirited that hope is an affront to its order.
As in all McDonagh works, the characters are ridiculous, outrageous, and oversized but underneath the over-the-top action and bloodshed there are somehow hauntingly human truths about what we need from other people and what they give us (and vice versa). I don't know of another playwright that makes horrible people so vulnerable and horrible situations so funny. Also, the fake-blood budgets for his plays must be enormous!

The entire cast of the Atlantic production was spot-on, but Aaron Monaghan was really completely brilliant as Cripple Billy (Tadhg Murphy was also so, so good in the tour). My heart hurt for him the entire show. (And my ankle had sympathy pains for the way he had to walk. I'm sure there was some sort of costuming trickery with his shoe, but it really did look like he was walking--or shuffling, really--on his ankle for the entire show.) Kerry Condon was also excellent as Slippy Helen, possibly the most difficult of the characters to keep real and even a little bit likable. No, really, everyone in this cast was perfect. And it had brilliant direction by Garry Hynes and charming set design by Francis O'Connor.

I was so disappointed when this didn't transfer to Broadway, as had been rumored. I'm so, so glad I had the chance to revisit it on tour. And I'm very grateful for the kinds of works that ArtsEmerson is bringing to Boston.

1 comment:

  1. I had a ticket to see this at Emerson in February but a family emergency prevented me from going. Sigh. You win some, you lose some. That's the thing about theatre. It's ephemeral. But I'm glad you enjoyed it!