The Irish Theater has always been small but has nourished some large talents. From the time of John Millington Synge its best dramatists have been blessed with strong wit and eloquence, laughing wildly and shouting angrily against the ways of the world.
This tradition has not changed with the emergence of a vital new generation of Irish theatrical voices that have come on the scene during the last decade like Sebastian Barry, Conor McPherson, Enda Walsh, all brilliantly talented, and Martin McDonagh perhaps the most auspicious of the lot. In his young career Mr. McDonagh has had four of his plays produced on Broadway all nominated for Tony Awards and in 2006 he won an Oscar for a short film Six Shooter.
Currently an early play of his which he wrote when he was 26 &ndash part of his Aran Islands trilogy &ndash The Cripple of Inishmaan, is being superbly revived by the Galway's Druid Theatre Company at the Atlantic Theatre, where it has been extended through the month of February.
The Cripple of Inishmaan originally attracted salutary critical attention for Mr. McDonagh when it opened London's National Theatre in 1996, in a production directed by Nicholas Hytner. A year later there was a vastly different (and unsuccessful) New York staging directed by Jerry Zaks with a mostly misbegotten American cast.
Inishmaan like most of Mr. McDonagh's work is an examination of the brutal and miserable lives of the rural folk of Western Island. Their frugal lives are intensified often by bloody violence and are only relieved by healthy doses of lethal black humor. Mr. McDonagh in his shadowy heart is a revisionist story teller of dark Irish tales. His provocative plays are spun- with a contemporary edge - to appall as well as to entertain.
At the center of Inishmaan is the orphan Crippled Billy (brilliantly played by Aaron Monaghan), disabled, handicapped with a gnarled body, who has been taken in by a pair of daft spinster shopkeepers played with judgmental perfection by Marie Mullen and Dearbhla Molloy. It seems the town's main commodity is small town gossip dispensed with alacrity by JohnnyPattenMike (David Pearse). The time is 1934, and everyone is abuzz about the arrival of Hollywood filmmaker Robert Flaherty, who is making a documentary film on the locals it was later released under the title Man of Aran. Flaherty probably got the inspiration for the film from playwright Synge, who in 1896, was told by W.B. Yeats to leave Paris and return to Ireland and live on the Arans Islands "as one of the people themselves and write about lives that have never found expression.&rdquo Synge spent most of his summers there and wrote his finest plays about the islands&rsquo inhabitants.
Like all his neighbors Cripple Billy, when he isn't staring at cows or reading books, nurtures dreams of Hollywood too and is determined to get to the movie set. He persuades two friends, the volatile Helen (Kerry Condon) and her submissive brother Bartley (Laurence Kinlan) to let him accompany them to the location on fisherman BabbyBobby's (Andrew Connolly) boat. There his fantasy comes true: a Hollywood director who is contemplating a movie about a cripple spots him and offers to take Billy to America for a screen test. If this all seems a little improbable it is. The play does have its share of inconsistencies but Mr. McDonagh gets away with them for the most part by never letting his characters or the proceedings become sentimental.
His director Garry Hynes, who won a Tony for directing another McDonagh play The Beauty Queen of Leenare, has handled the play's staging smoothly getting reali