The Cripple of Inishmaan
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by J. R. Sullivan
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
At a certain point (and perhaps we've come to that moment), I'm just going to sound like a broken record when I speak about the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players' productions. This company of eight actors is just fantastic and their expertise shines again in Martin McDonagh's darkly comic tale The Cripple of Inishmaan. The audience is transported back to 1934 and the Irish island of Inishmaan where we meet Billy (or, as the rest of the townsfolk call him "Cripple Billy"), his two foster aunts who have raised him since his parents' deaths when Billy was just a baby, and a few other kooky Irish lads and lassies who find themselves in a bit of a tizzy when local gossiper JohnnyPateenMike makes it known that Hollywood is coming to the nearby town of Inishmore. In the rather boring (or at the very least simple) town of Inishmaan, this is big news and Billy, with his mangled leg and hurt arm who often spends his free time staring at cows, sees this as an opportunity to possibly escape the doldrums of his lonely existence.
I'm actually quite surprised that playwright Martin McDonagh manages to make this play work. It's an odd melange of comedy, melodrama, almost Capra-esque sentimentality, and twisted violence that in no way should succeed. Somehow, though, it does, and it provides the REP with a work unlike anything they've performed before. While the company often finds itself delving into either just comedy or just drama, Inishmaan is a clever mix, much darker in tone (and nastier in its humor) then we're used to seeing from the REP, allowing the troupe to once again showcase a different side. It's also nice to see a modern play being performed -- something that I wish the REP would do a tiny bit more and they seem to be doing this year (Noises Off and the upcoming Our Country's Good from the 80s, and this production from 90s). [Gosh, how exciting would it be to see this troupe take on some modern-day stuff like Doubt and God of Carnage? Then again, when you do Shakespeare as exciting as this production of theirs last year, it's hard to complain about anything this group performs.]
Jumping back to the actors, though, this season has been great because in all the company's productions thus far, we've got to see all eight actors performing (something that wasn't done in seasons past) and there really doesn't seem to be anything these folks can't do. From the first moment Michael Gotch's Billy walks onstage, you immediately feel for the character. In a role that I'd assume requires great attention to the actual physicality of the character you're playing, Mr. Gotch imbues Billy with a great deal of heart and vulnerability as well. Personal favorite Kathleen Pirkl Tague shares much of her stage time with the wonderful Elizabeth Heflin as Billy's two "aunties" and their interactions with one another and their fellow townsfolk are comedic gold.
Kudos also need to be given to Stephen Pelinski whose take on the local gossiper JohnnyPateenMike provides a lot of the play's laughter. His scenes with his drunk ninety-plus-year-old mother (played by the ever-reliable Carine Montbertrand) didn't really advance the plot a whole lot, but they were some of my favorites in the show. It was also nice to see the REP welcome back last year's graduate of the university's PTTP program Ben Charles. Deena Burke, Mic Matarrese, and Steve Tague round out the rest of the stellar cast.
As is always the case with the REP, The Cripple of Inishmaan is top notch in terms of production values. The scenic design by Stefanie Hansen is wonderful (and garnered applause by the audience as the play opened) and the costumes by Andrea Barrier are also up to the usual standards held by the REP.
If there's something to complain about it lies in the fact that I couldn't help but feel like Martin McDonagh tacked on one too many endings. The play zips along in the first act, but I felt like the second act could have ended at least two times before it actually did. Granted, the continuation of the plot towards the end added to the rather enjoyable subversive nature of the play as a whole, but it still didn't quite flow as well as I feel like it could have leading up to the conclusion. Those are minor qualms, however, as I was pleasantly surprised by this production. The different tone presented by the REP in The Cripple of Inishmaan is a real treat and well worth seeing.