THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN
Click to view the rest of our 25th Season
5th Annual Irish Festival *
by Martin McDonagh
OPENS FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH
* Due to the size and scope of our joint-venture presentation of BEOWULF, we will not be programming other bilateral events for this year's festival.
Johnnypateenmike O’Dougal (towncrier and would-be mammy-murderer): “From Hollywood, California, in America they’re coming! Led be a Yank be the name of Robert Flaherty, one of the most famous and richest Yanks there is! Coming there to Inishmore they’re coming—and WHY are they coming? I’ll TELL you why they’re coming. To go making a moving picture film will cost o’er a million dollars . . . will show life how it’s lived on the islands, will make film stars of whosoever should be chose to take part in it . . . and be giving them a life free of work—or anyways only acting work which couldn’t be called work at all, it’s only talking” (Cripple of Inishmaan).
Robert Flaherty did, indeed, bring his film crew to remote Inishmore island back in 1934, to film The Man of Aran, a “fictional documentary,” and according to playwright Martin McDonagh—boy, was it ever fictional.
McDonagh takes us back to 1934, with this hook of a plot piece—Mr. Flaherty’s (and Americans’) romanticized version of ‘30s Irish, rural life—to show us his version of same, and it’s that which fuels the bonfire of satire in The Cripple of Inishmaan, in the darkly funny style that’s the hallmark of the infamous “dark lord of humor,” Mr. McDonagh (Beauty Queen of Leenane; A Skull in Connemara; The Lieutenant of Inishmore; A Behanding in Spokane; The Pillowman; and films In Bruges; and now, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri).
This bright/dark/side-splittingly funny tale takes place not on any movie set, nor does it include film scenes of imaginary, stalwart and stoic sea goers. Instead, the exaggerated romanticism of small town Irish life, standing still in time (essentially on a windy rock in the sea, so no one much leaves), is turned inside out by the equally exaggerated (or not?) intrigue among the socially-unfiltered inhabitants of neighboring Inishmaan. Claustrophobia and generations of Groundhog Day repetitions of routine, foster characters not to be found in Our Town.
Our hero, the title character known to all as “Cripple Billy,” the orphan (of course) teen with his bad limp and bad arm, spends his time gazing at cows, wondering about his parents, and longing for escape and an unlikely sweetheart—the ferocious and foul-mouthed Slippy Helen, who “pegs” the eggs she’s supposed to be delivering not only at the priests she claims are grabbing her “arse” in choir practice, but also her thick-headed brother Bartley McCormick (whose only dreams involve the American sweets “mintios and yallo-mallows” and telescopes).
Billy’s “aunties,” Kate and Eileen, run the only tiny, not-so-general store, mostly stocked with canned peas. To relieve their worries about Billy’s future, Eileen eats all the candies reserved for selling, while Kate (or as Helen calls her, “stone woman”) talks to a rock in her pocket. Babbybobby Bennet, a taciturn boatman, spends his time fending off Helen, while Johnnypateenmike fashions a living by skulking around for news (a sheep born with no ears or a murdered goose) in exchange for whatever provender he can trade it for—usually canned peas. All the while he continues his quest to murder (with drink) his mother, Mammy O’Dougal—still mourning her husband who was “ate be a shark” in 1871. She is, however, a formidable adversary.
Martin McDonagh, an Irishman reared mostly in England where his father could find work, is steeped in the language, imagination, and culture of his Sligo/Galway parents, yet possesses a kind of unique “double vision”—as drawn to the magic and magnetism of Ireland’s West as he is skeptical of it. So it’s no wonder that satire is his favorite style--always shadowing the light or darkness on the surface with a glimmer of its opposite just beneath—a very Irish trait.
PRODUCTION HISTORY (via Wikipedia)
The Cripple of Inishmaan opened on 12 December 1996 at Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe) in London. In April 1998, it opened Off-Broadway at the Joseph Papp Public Theater, again with Ruaidhri Conroy in the title role. In the same year, Frederick Koehler played Billy in Los Angeles.
The play was produced Off-Broadway by the Atlantic Theater Company in conjunction with The Druid Theatre Company of Galway, Ireland, opening on 21 December 2008. Directed by Garry Hynes, the cast featured Kerry Condon, Andrew Connolly, Laurence Kinlan, Dearbhla Molloy, Aaron Monaghan, Marie Mullen, Patricia O'Connell, David Pearse and John C. Vennema.
In 2013 the play returned to the West End for a sold-out run starring Daniel Radcliffe as Cripple Billy and with Michael Grandage directing. In spring 2014, this production transferred to Broadway at the Cort Theatre for a limited run, with Opening Night on 20 April 2014.
“[The play] has a heart. . . it doesn't offer a romantic gloss so much as find the beauty in close, quotidian interaction . . . And it's in that paradox — heartfelt satire — that this production, while wickedly funny, gains its weight, gravitas and sense of completeness” (Chicago Tribune).
“ . . . a beautifully ambivalent play . . . vivid portraits in a gallery of oddballs. . . . a gorgeously realized production that has the wisdom to let us laugh until it hurts” (NYT).
"This is a hysterical, smart, wicked, wildly original work. It really does make the case for McDonagh as one of the major finds of the decade." (Newsday)
“A considerable achievement . . . Mr. McDonagh is leading the way into a new, more profound theater . . ." (The Wall Street Journal).
"Young McDonagh is a playwright to reckon with… his comic talent appears unlimited" (The New York Post).
“There’s no doubt that Martin McDonagh is a master storyteller. [Cripple] floods his love of the old-fashioned story with something entirely new . . ." (LA Times).
"The Cripple of Inishmaan prompts the gratifying shiver of excitement one feels at encountering a true original" (Variety).