Ireland's Druid Theater Company is touring the States performing Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan and I caught it last Saturday night at the Zellerbach Playhouse, where it's playing through May 14th.
McDonagh's works (The Pillowman, In Bruges, The Lieutenant of Inishmore) are usually humorous affairs with a keen sense of subtle characterization and the blackest of hearts. Berkeley Rep's production of Lieutenant was one of the funniest things I've ever seen on stage, and also one of the bloodiest. The Cripple doesn't rely on mayhem for humor and is a more character-driven play, though there are plenty of laughs.
I can't say this with certainty, but it seems all of the actors but one are Irish, so I found myself having to pay close attention to the dialogue in order to catch all of it, and even then I missed some phrases. The actors are wonderful, especially Tadhg Murphy in title role, Cripple Billy, who lives with his two "aunts," Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) and Kate (Ingrid Craigie). Molloy has masterful timing and she's a droll delight from the very first moments. As the town gossip hell-bent on sending his 90-something year old mother (Nancy E. Carroll) to an alcoholic death, Dermot Crowley as JohhnyPateenMike almost steals every scene he's in except when he's matched against the gruff BobbyBobby (Liam Carney), where the two opposites play against one another to a draw. Also in the cast is Clare Dunn as the mean slattern Slippy Helen, Laurence Kinlan as Helen's not-as-dumb-as-he-seems brother Bartley, and Paul Vincent O'Connor (the suspected Yank, judging by his accent) as Doctor McSharry.
The story involves Billy's attempt to break free from a life of ridicule and scorn when an American film company announces its intention to come to the island to film the locals and possibly take one of them back to Hollywood. This plot is based on a real events from 1934 when filmmaker Robert Flaherty did just that. The small-town denizens, their desires and the town's claustrophobic, incestuous atmosphere transcend the Irish setting- this could easily be anywhere in the American Mid-west or South and there a universal quality to the characters that makes everyone is the play ultimately sympathetic- and that's one of the problems, at least as far as I see it. Without a villain to play against, the play ends up more sympathetic than it ought to, especially considering the darkness blanketing the backstories of how Billy became a cripple in the first place and BobbyBobby's past.
That's a small quibble, which doesn't detract from making the evening a rewarding night of theater, but it also isn't likely to burn into one's memory like The Lieutenant of Inishmore did mine. Having said that, my companion, a McDonagh fan and a serious theater-goer, didn't like Berkeley Rep's Lieutenant at all and thought The Cripple the much better theatrical experience. But she doesn't have a blog, so you get my opinion and not hers. Regardless, it's worth seeing.
There are four more performances and I would be remiss in my duty to not tell you there are some seriously discounted tickets available via the usual channels (you do "Like" Cal Performances on Facebook, don't you? Of course you do).