Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan isn't as dark or violent as his best-known plays, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman, and The Beauty Queen of Leeane. But it is certainly one of his funniest and features engaging characters and colloquial Irish dialogue that doesn't begin and end with "feck." New Yorkers are lucky to have a chance to see this production by Dublin's Druid Theater, beautifully directed by Garry Hynes and starring the original UK cast. It's sure to delight anyone with a taste for the lilting Irish language and McDonagh's patented black humor.
The action takes place in 1934 on the remote island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland. Kate ( Marie Mullen) and Eileen ( Dearbhla Molloy) are sisters who run the local grocery store. They also take care of their nephew Billy ( Aaron Monaghan), whose parents drowned years ago and whom everyone calls "Cripple Billy." JohnnyPateenMike ( David Pearse) is the town gossip, trading bits of juicy information for canned goods and sweets. He informs the sisters that Hollywood director Robert Flaherty is in the area making a film, "Man of Aran." Billy decides he must find a way to get to the island where the movie is being shot, hoping he'll be cast in the film and taken to Hollywood to be discovered. Helen ( Kerry Condon), a pretty, tough talking local girl, also has dreams of cinematic glory.
McDonagh has plenty of twists and turns up his sleeve, so the story is full of surprises. But his ability to craft a play is secondary to his vivid characters and their inspired use of language. "Poor Billy will never be getting kissed ...unless it be to a blind girl," says Eileen. Many sentences end with "so," with the voice going up a pitch. The language is musical, old-fashioned, and often hilarious. For instance, JohnnyPateenMike's elderly Mammy ( Patricia O' Connell) "has been trying to drink herself dead for 65 years." And JohnnyPateenMike has done his part to help her along, providing bottles of booze against the orders of her Doctor ( John C. Vennema). Even the names have a lilt to them, particularly BabbyBobby ( Andrew Connolly). He has the boat that will take a few lucky passengers to the island where Flaherty is filming. Cripple Billy may not be much to look at, but he's clever enough to secure himself a place in BabbyBobby's boat.
Hynes directed the Atlantic Theater production of The Beauty Queen of Leeane that won Tony Awards after it transferred to Broadway. Her staging is just as assured this time, and McDonagh's work still feels right at home at the Atlantic's Linda Gross Theater, The cast couldn't be better. Mullen (a Tony winner for her performance in The Beauty Queen) is wonderful as Kate, who talks to stones when she gets worried about Billy. Moloy is also terrific as Eileen, and Pearse makes the most of the self-centered raconteur JohnnyPateenMike. Condon is perfect as the feisty, bullying Helen, and Monaghan makes Billy as sly as he is pitiful and sympathetic.
The Cripple of Inishmaan was first staged in New York at the Public Theater in 1998 in a first-rate production directed by Jerry Zaks that was inexplicably drubbed by some critics. This production, which brings out every ounce of humor in McDonagh's delicious play, is even better. Anyone in need of some laughs in these bleak, cold times should buy tickets without delay. And let's hope that Mcdonagh doesn't abandon theater for Hollywood. His Golden Globe-nominated In Bruges isn't bad. But his best plays including The Cripple of Inishmaan, are great.<