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Theatre Review (LA): The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

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This production of The Cripple of Inishmaan is a marvelous staging of Martin McDonagh’s darkly hilarious play, brought to the Kirk Douglas Theatre for a limited four-week run by The Druid and Atlantic Theatre. McDonagh is the multi-award-winner playwright who brought us The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Lonesome West, The Plowman, and Lieutenant of Inishmore (seen recently at the Taper), and won several awards for his first feature film In Bruges. He and Connor McPherson are the new dramatic voices from Ireland.

While McPherson tends to be much more serious and poetic, McDonagh is like rock and roll, wild, nasty, sexy, but always compassionate. His characters are usually fairly stupid and very set in their ways. There is also a modicum of violence found in all his plays and each character is capable of extreme nastiness. Yet through it all, we laugh and find our common humanity in his stories.

This particular story revolves around a young cripple named Bill Claven (played brilliantly by Tadhg Murphy). When the town gossip, Johnnypateen Mike (Dermot Crowley), comes into the store run by Billy’s Aunties (Dearbhla Molloy and Ingrid Craigie) to announce the arrival of a Hollywood director on the neighboring island of Inishmore to film The Man of Aran, everyone except the Aunties wants to be in the film, including Billy. Well, Billy’s friends Slippy Helen (who has a penchant for throwing eggs), and her idiot brother Bartley (who loves “sweeties”), as well as Johnnypateen Mike and Babbybobby (the only one with a boat) all think Billy is crazy to even hope for a role and as usual taunt him mercilessly.

As it turns out Billy gets an audition in Hollywood, though he doesn’t get the role. It is in Hollywood he discovers he has TB. He eventually comes home, where he is snubbed by most everyone, but finally makes some headway with Slippy Helen, a belligerent but beautiful girl. Along the way there is lots of pathos and some violence plus several cliffhangers. One of the most puzzling and painful aspects of the piece is to see the actor Tadhg Murphy drag his twisted foot about the stage. We wonder how he does it because it looks so very real.

The writing, direction (by Garry Hynes), and all the actors are first rate. I really couldn’t single out any one actor as best, but the role of Johnnypateen Mike (performed with smarmy hilarity by Mr. Crowley) is a role most any actor would want to play. What I love about McDonagh’s work is that despite the cruelty, stupidity, and violence in his plays there is also a great deal of compassion and love for his characters. The Cripple of Inishmaan will play at the Kirk Douglas until May 1.

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