The Cripple of Inishmaan

By Martin McDonagh

The Cripple of Inishmaan
The Cripple of Inishmaan

Directed by Garry Hynes

Produced by Druid and Atlantic Theater Companies

At Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago

“Stop thinking aloud,” Eileen tells him. “Did you ever see the Virgin Mary going thinking aloud?

Powerful cruel Irish comedy depicts the isolation of the rural Irish life

As part of Chicago Shakespeare’s World Stage Series, the Druid Theatre from Galway, Ireland in conjunction with the Atlantic Theater Company have mounted a most enduring production of  Martin McDonagh’s 1996 cruel, dark comedy – The Cripple of Inishmaan. Featuring an Irish cast and McDonagh expert director, Garry Hynes, we are presented a savagely funny and brutally honest look at the nasty side of rural Irish life that is even more isolated with the folks who inhabit the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

It is a slice-of-life whimsical comedy featuring quirky characters living in 1934 on the small rural island of Inishmaan.  It is the tale of “Cripple” Billy Claven who searches for his life’s purpose as he yearns to escape the monotony of provincial living.  He is beset by cruel words as the inhabitants continuing refer to Billy as an ugly “cripple boy.” Billy desires more from life especially human connections, even love. When an American documentary film makers arrive at the neighboring  Aran Island, Billy plots his escape to Hollywood to become a film star.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

He is surrounded by a collection of wacky villagers including eccentrics and ne’er-do-wells such as Kate Osbourne (Ingrid Craigie), Billy’s adoptive aunt who has been known to talk to stones; Eileen Osbourne (Dearbhla Molloy), Billy’s other adoptive aunt and Kate’s sister; JohnnyPateenMike (Dermot Crowley), the town gossip and rumor monger; Helen McCormick (Clare Dunne), a tough girl, aka “Slippery Helen,” Billy has had a crush on for some time; Bartley McCormick (Laurence Kinlan), Helen’s brother, simpleminded candy lover; Babbybobby Bennett (Liam Carney), a boatman whose wife died of tuberculosis and Billy’s hope to escape Inishmaan; Doctor McSharry (Paul Vincent O’Connor), the town doctor; and Mammy O’Dougal (Nancy E. Carroll), JohnnyPateenMike’s alcoholic 90 year-old mother who steals her scenes with caustic comments.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

This tale of isolation, poverty and boredom  shows how cruel folks can get when they live too close and feed off gossip and superstition. The ignorance of these folks fuels their brutal behavior. McDonagh captures the zaniness of these folks whose weird antics and amazing nastiness is fuel for a dark comedy. The laughs abound in this brilliant acted dark work. The characters are most imaginative and memorable. We empathize with Billy’s plight and we cheer for him to escape the vice of nastiness of Inishmaan.  The tale is poignant, heart-wrenching and sad. Despite all the laughs, we feel Billy’s pain.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

The Cripple of Inishmaan peels away the sense of sentimentality and folksy image of rustic Ireland with the petty cruelty and narrow-mindedness. The play is fine Irish storytelling with a hint of absurdity and loads of heart. The cast of Irish actors  were amazing – especially Tadhg Murphy as Billy and Dermot Crowley as JohnnyPateenMike. It is so refreshing to witness a terrific cast so deeply inhabiting their characters. Kudos to Chicago Shakespeare Theater for bring such amazing work from Ireland. This show is a “must see.” Hurry, this show only runs until March 27, 2011 in Chicago!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 16, 2011

For full show information, check out The Cripple of Inishmaan page at Theatre In Chicago.