Friday, March 25, 2011

The Cripple of Inishmaan (Chicago Shakespeare/Druid)

About five or six years ago I was on the phone with my Uncle Patrick who had then just moved back to Ireland for good. It must have been Christmas or some such day. “How is Ireland” I asked. And he responded, “It’s the 51st state in the Union.” And I knew what he meant. The Irish had become more like Americans because of the Celtic Tiger which is to say disgusting fatties who live beyond their means. That is not exactly true, mostly because we are super fat here, but you get my drift. The Irish were paying outrageous sums for property and were so entrenched in a bubble it didn’t seem like a bubble to them at all. USA! USA! USA!

And overspending isn’t the only thing that was lapped up like so many foamy heads off a pint of Guinness. The Irish were also ingesting our culture, for like the last 20 years or so. I will only mention programs and films (pronounced fill-im, with two syllables) Irish people have mentioned to me, so below is not a scientific list.

The Simpsons

Good Fellas and Martin Scorsese

Reservoir Dogs and Quentin Tarantino

Desperate Housewives- Yeah. Desperate Housewives. I know it looks like it doesn’t belong but it is a huge money maker. I wish it was The Wire.

I think the first three on the list were big deal things over here, too. Good Fellas is a big one for anyone and I know plenty of people who still talk about and quote that movie. Same for the Simpsons. And Reservoir Dogs. Way cooler than quoting plays. Cool as Pinter and Shakespeare are, you don’t pull out of their zingers at a bar. And if you do, you deserve a wedgie the size of the mighty state of California, I tells ya’.

You know who else is fun to quote? Your own family, if your family is colorful. And playwright Martin McDonagh must have come from a colorful family. Everyone knows his tale by now and if you don’t then you can look up the details online but basically he had Irish parents who moved him and his brother to England so they could find work (so Irish!). Then, when he was 16 or so, his parents moved back to Galway, the best county in all of Ireland, and left his brother and Martin in England. Long story short, at a very young age, Martin McDonagh became one of the most famous and produced playwrights of the our time by writing a series of plays about rural Ireland, most set in the West, in Galway, if I’m not mistaken. Until Tuesday, I had only been to see THE PILLOWMAN, at Steppenwolf and then again at Red Twist. So, I was keen to see THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN performed by the (I heart) Galway’s Druid Theatre Company for dirt cheap. Both the influence of Scorsese and Tarantino can be seen in the piece and that is news to no one. Everyone knows this cat is totally influenced by those cats, and if you don’t you haven’t read a thing about theatre in the last 10 years.

The cripple’s name is Billy who lives with his two spinster Aunites, who own a shop. He hears of a film being produced on the Aran Islands and hustles a lift from BabbyBobby Bennett in an effort to break into show business. And he ends up going to America, leaving his Aunties and the towns folk behind. Do you really not know the story here? I knew the story and I really have no idea how; must be from several reviews, read throughout the years. More than anything, this is a play about small town life with your neighbors and gossip serving as the only form of connection or entertainment. It’s about the oppression of your ability to change because of your community and the comfort the routine that community can offer.

I had always heard that McDonagh plays made fun of or showed disdain for Irish people. And, I didn’t find that to be true. The characters and situations are crafted with care and the language is super fun. And to me, as an Irish American, with only one Aunite and one Uncle not born and breed in Ireland, totally familiar. There is a celebration of language and rhetoric going on in this play. And the timing in the lines and set ups is really rock solid. This is the work of an insider.

What surprised me the most? Is what a well-made play it is. This is what the new, hot, British bad boy has to offer the canon of plays about Ireland? This completely playing within the rules effort? I expected, from what I have read about him, more cinematic element because of what he said about his own plays being cinematic but no. There are long scenes with plenty of repetition and solidly placed exposition with a few highly organized twists so the audience doesn’t get lulled into the complacency felt during most ‘play plays’. There’s nothing truly absurd. I mean, there is a flavor of it with some Beckett-ey stuff with the Aunites, but when you compare it to actual Beckett it still seems like realism. There is no magic realism or jumping between scenes and conversations. It’s almost old school.

And so is the staging. This is a ‘lights up lights down’ thing with blackouts. When was the last time you saw an honest to god blackout, Chicago. I know. We don’t do them anymore. They're out of fashion and most of the theaters we go to or produce at need the actors to move the scenery so everyone figured might as well make it part of the thing. Put an old song in there or have the scene change while the next scene is happening. I really liked the play and the production. I was always totally engaged and with the play.

The acting was superb. Take that with a grain of salt. I mean, I do think the acting was incredible but part of that was the authenticity of the performances. I’ve seen some Irish plays around town and heard some Irish accents and, well, accents are hard. They seemed to be using their own accents, too. I mean, they didn’t put on any old school accent. The play is set in 1930’s Ireland, before outside influences really had a chance to affect the way the accent worked. Are you still awake after that boring bit about the accents? I hope so because one of the actors was in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Heard of it much? His name is Dermot Crowley and he played JohnnyPateenMike which is sort of like a Tyler Perry House of Payne version of the town gossip Irish bachelor who lives with his mammy but he is also a HILARIOUS creation and he was played HILARIOUSLY by this Dermot Crowley, who, by the way, was also in OCTOPUSSY. The Aunties were played by Ingrid Craigie and Dearbhla ‘fancy pants Grammy nominee’ Molloy and they were hilarious, too. Tadhg Murphy played the cripple fella and holy cow I may have seen him in the Abbey’s production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST a few years ago in Ireland. Or did I see that at the Gate? Anyway, he was adorable and charming and had a sweet voice and an unrelenting limp. If you can, get tickets to this. You get a free ticket to BLACKWATCH, performed by the National Theatre of Scotland. Boy oh boy, that play looks good.


-Anita Deely


  1. I have so much to say about this post, but I'll leave it at this:
    1. Accents ARE hard.
    2. I wish everything were The Wire.
    3. I'm going to do my best to see this show tomorrow night.

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