The bracing revival of Martin McDonagh’s black comedy, The Cripple of Inishmaan, with a deeply moving Aaron Monaghan as the twisted orphan Billy at the center of the bleak tale, may be the least violent of McDonagh’s plays, even his most wistful infused with charming depictions of Gaelic eccentricities. But amidst McDonagh’s sweet ironic humor there is also his trademark pathos and savagery that becomes all the more disturbing in this quiet, yet unpredictable world set on the isolated Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland.
Billy has a crush on Helen (Kerry Condon), a local girl with a sadistic streak who returns his romantic advances with blows to his head. When he isn’t pursuing her, Billy spends most of his time looking at cows and reading. However when a film director comes to a nearby island scouting local talent to film a documentary about the people living there, Billy seizes this opportunity as a way of escaping his dull existence living with his foster aunts, Kate and Eileen (Marie Mullen and Dearbhla Molloy). The two run the island’s lone general store and spend their spare time fretting about Billy.
McDonagh has crafted his story around a true 1934 historical fact about film director Robert Flaherty, using it as a catalyst for his characters. Billy now dreams of going to America and becoming a star in Hollywood, where his life will be entirely different and crippled actors will be in demand. But first he has to get to the neighboring island for his screen test. His passage there will be secured by a lie that will come to haunt him in one of the evening’s many ironies. .
When experiencing a McDonagh play expect the unexpected. His complex stories are driven by the unpredictability of human behavior, which is at the core of Cripple, and reversals will show up in surprising ways. Recent productions of McDonagh’s plays, The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2006), and The Pillowman (2003), have found success and acclaim on Broadway.
Garry Hynes, who became the first woman to win a Tony Award for directing McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane in 1998, helms the current revival of The Cripple of Inishmaan with an impeccable attention to the rhythms of the playwright’s language. Returning to The Atlantic Theater Company where Beauty Queen premiered in America before transferring to Broadway in 1998, Hynes has done fine work giving the evening a somber tone. Although her cast is superb, some of the emotional depth has been sacrificed with her emphasis on the rhythms. And David Pearse as JohnnyPateenMike, a local gossip who barters information for food and money to keep his sickly mother in an alcoholic stupor, has been allowed to play in an over the top manner that diminishes his character.
The evening, however, belongs to Arron Monaghan, who is utterly convincing as the sad and funny cripple.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
The Cripple of Inishmaan is playing at the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Tickets are available be calling 212-279-4200 or at HYPERLINK "http://www.ticketcentral.com" www.ticketcentral.com