Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MAY 1, 2009
Just off the west coast of Ireland , there’s a trio of tiny, sparsely populated islands — craggy, windswept and isolated. The inhabitants, an insular, hardscrabble lot, have long fascinated playwright Martin McDonagh , who spent his youthful summers near the Aran Islands . Of all his grisly creations, “The Cripple of Inishmaan ,” written in 1997 when he was just 27, is McDonagh’s most humorous and least violent work.
Cripple Billy is the centerpiece, a twisted lad of 18 who longs for escape from his stultifying life. He also yearns for the truth, about how and why both his parents drowned shortly after his birth. But truth is a slippery substance in these parts. Everyone is a yarn-spinner, a fantasist or fabricator. So there are various versions of various stories, and McDonagh has piled a whole heap of inconsistency onto his characters. The most sadistic and cruel turn out to have a streak of kindness. And the nicest of folks can go vicious. Boredom takes its toll in a land of relentless uneventfulness .
The professional prevaricator, Johnnypateenmike , cheerfully helps his nasty old alcoholic Mam to more life-destroying liquor. But he also turns out to have performed one astonishingly altruistic act. Eavesdropper and gossipmonger extraordinaire, it’s he who spreads the news of an American film crew shooting a documentary on nearby Inishmore . The year is 1934, and the movie is “Man of Aran .” Billy sees this as his big chance for a getaway. So he wrangles his way onto the little boat that the diffident but good-hearted BabbyBobby commands. Also on board is Helen, who loves nothing more than swearing like a sailor and lobbing raw eggs at men she wants to keep at a distance, including Billy, who’s always fancied her. She’s furious when Billy is the one chosen to go to Hollywood for a screen test. No one hears from him for months, and the rumor mill is working overtime. But things have a way of coming around on this island, and the line between cruelty and kindness gets crossed multiple times, in unexpected ways. It’s all about the unpredictability of people, the toll mind-numbing monotony can take, and the desire to be loved, accepted and cared for.
Ion theatre has mounted an attractive, touching and often hilarious production, deftly directed by Glenn Paris. The west country dialect that McDonagh half remembered/half created is a hoot. Jason Connors is heartbreaking as Cripple Billy, who’s not as hapless and hopeless as he seems. Morgan Trant is delicious as foul-mouthed Helen, and Walter Ritter is a delight as the local tall-tale teller, Johnypateenmike . The rest of the excellent cast brings character and color to the mix.
There’s no funny little leprechaun here, but the production is a darkly comic pot o’ gold.
The ion theatre production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan ” runs through May 10 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza .
©2009 PAT LAUNER