The Cripple of Inishmaan

The Cripple of Inishmaan

I must say, I enjoy seeing theatre at the end of the season because it tends to be one good production after another. I’m finally getting around to seeing the shows I’ve heard wonderful things about for months. The Cripple of Inishmaan is one of them.

After being a huge hit in London, the production has made its way over to Broadway, garnering several Tony Award nominations (Best Revival, Best Director, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role). You might already be familiar with Martin McDonagh’s work – plays like The Pillowman or films like In Bruges. This play is a wonderful mix of dark themes and biting comedy where you’ll laugh in spite of yourself. It takes place in Inishmaan off the coast of Ireland in the 1930s. A Hollywood director comes to the Aran Islands to cast a film, and the young people of the town dream of getting their chance – primarily Billy, a physically handicapped boy who is desperate to get away from the cruel jeers and rumors he’s been surrounded by all his life.

As my roomie and I approached the theatre, I began commenting on the poster artwork, how it has absolutely nothing to do with the play aside from advertising its star. It’s basically three model shots of Daniel Radcliffe looking damn good. The marketing campaign is selling fame, pure and simple. But you know what? If Harry Potter gets people in the seats to see one of the best playwrights out there, then so be it.

Mr. Radcliffe has turned into quite the actor. It’s his third time on the Broadway (although still no recognition from the Tony committee). Unfortunately I missed (all of) him in Equus, but I did get to see him sing and dance (impressively so) in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying a few years ago. And now he’s back in another physically challenging role as “Cripple” Billy. He’s very good, but even though this review and many others are dedicating extra time to talk about the boy wizard, I do want to stress that this is indeed an ensemble piece. The aunties (played brilliantly by Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna) practically steal the show. They’re spot on. And Sarah Greene as Helen is absolutely wonderful. No wonder she got a Tony nod for her performance. It’s a difficult task to play such a mean-spirited girl and remain likeable. We have to like Helen if we’re rooting for Billy to win her over. We need to believe she would do kind things for someone even though for the majority of the two and a half hours she’s treating everyone like dirt, particularly her poor brother Bartley (played excellently by Conor MacNeill). That’s the case with many of the characters, in fact. These people are cruel to one another, but we still care about them because we know that they, deep down, care about each other.

Oh, and if you’ve avoided the play because you’re afraid of the accents, you’ll catch on quickly. There are some Irish terms that might pass you by, but your ear will adjust. The story is full of twist and turns, truths and lies, and kindness and cruelty, and you’ll eagerly await what each character says next. If you’re able to get to the Cort Theatre before July 20th, I do recommend checking out The Cripple of Inishmaan. And not just because Harry Potter is in it.

The Cripple of Inishmaan
Written by Martin McDonagh, Directed by Michael Grandage
Cort Theatre, Closing July 20th
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner
Pictured: Daniel Radcliffe and Sarah Greene

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