In the dark comic tale The Cripple of Inishmaan, a group of eccentric characters inhabiting a small island village in 1930’s western Ireland are excited for the arrival of a Hollywood film crew to a neighboring town.
While this may seem the setup of an outdated sitcom on BBC or a throwaway Monty Python sketch, the script written by Martin McDonagh twenty years ago has a certain idiosyncratic charm that is both heartfelt and timeless.
On the Island of Inishmaan, sisters Eileen and Kate Osbourne (Cindy Shea and Lisa Sutherland respectively) run a general store while taking care of their nephew “Cripple” Billy (Benjamin Titter), who is most eager to land an audition for the film, hoping for some excitement and adventure in a life that has been mostly occupied with staring at cows and yearning for the affection of Helen McCormack (Kate Henaghan) who would rather make life miserable for her little brother Bartley (Jacie Murray) than even acknowledge Billy’s existence.
So Billy ignores any advice on his health from Doctor McSharry (Scott Laske) and enlists the help of one Babbybobby (Kai Sutherland) to help him travel to Inishmore where the filming is taking place. All the while, Johnnypateenmike (John C Roberts), who fancies himself the local town crier, is always a few steps behind, eager to be privy to the unfolding details of anything remotely interesting (or even not that interesting) happening in the small village where he lives with his Mammy (Eileen Engel).
Director Robert Cox has assembled a solid cast of local actors to portray these interesting individuals, allowing the humor to come naturally through the harsh honesty of the script rather than an insincere forced comedic approach. There’s an instant and excellent chemistry between Shea and Sutherland as they open the play with a hilarious discussion of their nephew, making comments that while perhaps not too kind, are still somehow filled with love and affection. McDonagh has a knack for writing clever dialogue (he was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay for the film In Bruges several years after winning an Oscar for the live action short film Six Shooter) but it takes a highly skilled actor to deliver it not only with the appropriate dialect (which the cast uniformly demonstrate exceedingly well) but also the appropriate contrast of compassion and disdain.
Titter is an engaging presence in the title role, careful to not let the heart of Billy’s character be overshadowed by the presentational aspect of his physical deformations. Henaghan and Murray commandeer their moments together nicely, proving that the younger cast members are just as capable with their accents and characterizations as the more experienced adults. And no one seems to be having more fun on stage than Roberts, whose delight and energy is infectious, making it impossible not to enjoy every scene featuring his colorful news reports and commentaries of life on the island.
The production team is just as proficient as the cast, who not only uniformly sound good but also look good thanks to Meg Murray’s smart costume design. Akin Ritchie’s lighting design compliments the appropriate simplicity of Mr. Cox’s set, especially in what is perhaps the funniest scene of the play when the characters all gather to watch the “documentary” that resulted from the local filming. There’s something oddly compelling about watching people watch something, and the sense of community really comes through in this community theater production.
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