This week the Centenary Stage Company premiered the third production of a fine four play season with Tony Award winning playwright Martin McDonagh's remarkable dark comedy of the bleak life in rural Ireland in 1934,"The Cripple of Inishmaan."
McDonagh, the author of two sets of trilogies, The Leenane and the Aran Islands trilogies, located in and around County Galway in Ireland has been referred to as "the theater’s reigning master of gory Irish gothic." The Leenane trilogies includes "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" (1996) and the Aran trilogies includes "The Cripple of Inishmaan" (1997).
McDonagh set his story on the island of Inishmaan off the west coast of Ireland in 1934 the year that the American filmmaker Robert Flaherty and crew arrived on a nearby island to film the documentary "Man of Aran." The presence of the Americans, from Hollywood no less, is the event of the year. Even more exciting since all the "actors" in the documentary are locals.
The cripple is Billy Claven (Tom Morin), deformed at birth, and orphaned soon after, who leads a quiet (translation: boring) life living with his two adopted aunts (Kate-Carolyn Popp and sister Eileen-Catherine Rust) who run a small understocked (mostly cans of peas) store. Billy's greatest pleasure is simply staring at cows, his greatest desire is for the love of a woman, but a kiss will do.
The principal form of communication on the island is via Johnnypateenmike (David Edwards) a master teller of tall tales who survives by trading the gossip of the day for eggs and more from the good aunts and others on the island. Billy's excited response to the news, from Johnnypateenmike, of the filmmakers on the next island proves to be life changing. Is this the opportunity he has been seeking....a chance to rise out of the poverty, and the ridicule he had to endure plus the sheer boredom of life on the island?
Unlike McDonagh's sad, dour tale of "The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the "The Cripple of Inishmaan" has an ample supply of laughs mixed with its warm and savage plot swings. This is excellent, intelligent theatre presented by a marvelous, perfectly cast group of actors, most of whom are Actor's Equity members .
Playing Cripple Billy is Tom Morin; he and David Edwards are truly outstanding in their key roles. Edwards is playing Johnnypateenmike the old ragtag gossip, a part as far from his national tour role of Max Bialystock for Mel Brooks in "The Producers" as possible. Acting students will particularly benefit from seeing such a major talent at work. The two aunts and shopkeepers are played by the wonderful Carolyn Popp and Centenary Stage's General Manager, the equally wonderful Catherine Rust. Young Kyle Parham, in his junior year at Centenary College, is Bartley who is "awful thick" and not above ridiculing Billy, but, gets his regular comeuppance from his sister Helen, Billy's love interest, played beautifully by Leah Barker.
Mark Byrne, born and bred in Dublin, is an island boatman Babbybobby who kindly provides Billy the means to audition for the film maker. Rounding out the cast is Dave Scheffler as the town doctor and Kathleen Huber is hysterical as Johnnypateenmike's ancient alcoholic Mammy who refuses to die despite his best efforts. Centenary regulars will recall that Huber appeared in the first play of this season "The Mousetrap."
Credit for the excellent casting, of course, goes to the director Carl Wallnau, the Centenary Stage's Artistic Director. We gave Wallnau our 2012 NJ Footlights Award for his work, both as director and star, in last season's "Ladies Man." Based on his "The Cripple of Inishmaan" effort he is a strong candidate to repeat this year. Also, credit dialect director Dudley Knight for his outstanding Aran island's dialect work with the cast.
Key production credits: excellent set by Emmy Award-winning set designer Bob Phillips. Mr. Phillips also designed CSC’s productions of "The Mousetrap," "Light up the Sky," and "The Ladies Man;" light design Ed Matthews; costumer Julia Sharp; fight choreographer Stephen Davis; and stage manager Danielle Constance.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio February 22, 2013
To purchase tickets for The Cripple of Inishmaan or to find more information on the show, visit www.centenarystageco.org or call the box office at (908) 979-0900. Tickets for The Cripple of Inishmaan range from $17.50 to $27.50 with discounts for students and seniors.
Every Thursday night is “Date Night,” which offers a 2-for-1 rush ticket price when purchased at the door. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There are 2 p.m. matinees on Wednesdays February 27th and March 6th. This show has strong language and adult content.