Thursday, March 12, 2009

A few words on Cripple

The Cripple of Inishmaan is hobbling out of the Atlantic Theater Company’s main stage on March 15, but Martin McDonagh’s gentlest play (unless you’re an egg) is worthy of mention. First seen at the Public in 1998, the show has returned in a Druid Theatre Company staging that gives full vent to its Irishness. Filmmaker Robert Flaherty’s visit to the Aran Islands in 1934 to film his documentary Man of Aran rouses the locals, notably the wheezy, woebegone Cripple Billy (Aaron Monaghan, terrific), who sees a chance at a ticket to Hollywood and a more fulfilling life than in his narrow-minded, gossipy town. McDonagh, known and/or notorious for The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, goes easy on the shock effects to present a portrait of the eccentric townspeople, who stifle, but also nourish, Cripple Billy. These include his aunties, Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) and Kate (Marie Mullen), who run the bedraggled shop where much of the show takes place, the exasperating town busybody JohnnyPateenMike (David Pearse), two-faced boat owner Babby Bobby (Andrew Connolly, pictured, at right, with Monaghan), and the town flirt Slippy Helen (Kerry Condon). She’s the one with the egg problem, who, when Flaherty’s film is finally screened, is disappointed to see that it’s about “a feckin’ fish.” I never thought of it that way.

Garry Hynes has directed an impeccable ensemble as if it we were watching them in Dublin. (I’ve never seen an uncommitted performance in her work.) Everything is purposeful, particularly Francis O’Connor’s breakaway set, which splits apart to reveal other environments, most trenchantly a neon-splashed Hollywood. As there is no makeup credit I assume O’Connor, as costume designer, deserves some of the praise for Cripple Billy’s wrenchingly detailed infirmity. LD Davy Cunningham and sound designer John Leonard also do exceptional work that is seamlessly bound up with the world the playwright has created.

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