×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Given an American premiere last season at the Joseph Papp Public Theater that was too broad -- more Oyrish than Irish -- the Geffen Playhouse's production of "The Cripple of Inishmaan" has attempted to rectify that problem by importing a few actors with the right credentials.

With:
Eileen - Dearbhla Molloy Kate - Barbara Tarbuck Johnnypateenmike - Max Wright Billy - Fred Koehler Bartley - J.D. Cullum Helen - Derdriu Ring Babbybobby - Paul O'Brien Doctor McSharry - Thomas MacGreevy Mammy - Rosaleen Linehan

Given an American premiere last season at the Joseph Papp Public Theater that was too broad — more Oyrish than Irish — the Geffen Playhouse’s production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” has attempted to rectify that problem by importing a few actors with the right credentials. Under the direction of Joe Dowling, this “Cripple” benefits immensely from the lovely comic performance of Dearbhla Molloy, who played the role of Eileen in the original Royal National Theatre production of the play. And from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, Thomas MacGreevy and Rosaleen Linehan give understated and overstated performances, respectively, in supporting roles that require just such radically different interpretations.

The brilliance of Martin McDonagh’s play is that he takes an exceedingly glum situation and turns it into a comedy of uncommon hilarity. Just when Cripple Billy (Fred Koehler) thinks his life on the bleak island of Inishmaan can’t get any worse, there’s a whole village full of idiots reminding him that it can. And it does, repeatedly.

Political correctness had not yet arrived on Inishmaan back in 1934 when filmmaker Robert Flaherty came from Hollywood to film the documentary “Man of Aran,” one of his follow-ups to the classic “Nanook of the North.”

Flaherty never appears in McDonagh’s play, but the famous filmmaker’s brief visit to the island offers Billy, the title character, his only possibility of escape from a theater of cruelty that never speaks the words “challenged” and “handicapped.” Will Billy be cast in Flaherty’s documentary? Will a trip to Hollywood make the poor boy into a movie star? Can something even mildly upbeat happen to an Irish cripple?

At one point, the orphaned Billy wonders if his infirmity was the result of his drunken father beating his pregnant mother. (Both parents have since drowned in a boating accident that may or may not have been a double suicide.) “No,” replies the kindly doctor. “It’s the disease, so don’t go romanticizing it.”

Many of the scenes in “The Cripple” are written as two-character sketches: the spinster sisters (Molloy and Barbara Tarbuck) fighting over who eats more of their store’s goods; the town gossip (Max Wright) and his alcoholic mother (Linehan) wishing the worst for each other; and the bully Helen (Derdriu Ring), who can’t help but beat up on her good dimwitted brother, Bartley (J.D. Cullum).

These comic duos play expertly onstage together. A sign of McDonagh’s talent is that he keeps blurring the line between his alpha comics and his straight men; the two miraculously keep changing roles during their respective routines. Add to this his unbelievable wit, as sharp as it is perverse, and “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is nearly a masterwork.

“Cripple” opened in New York City almost concurrently with the Broadway production of McDonagh’s “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” which, according to most reviewers, is the superior play. Certainly, “Beauty Queen” got the better, more authentic production, populated as it was with Irish actors under the direction of Tony Award winner Garry Hynes of the Abbey Theatre.

The Public Theater’s production of “Cripple” was broadly played, but the fact remains that the comedy is pretty broadly written. “Cripple,” however, is never obvious in its effects as is “Beauty Queen,” which keeps hitting you with matricide, stove-top torture and other Grand Guignol effects to move along its narrative. “Cripple” also has its share of lurid secrets to drop, but they’re more seamlessly built into McDonagh’s storyline.

As Billy, Koehler creates a beautiful, quiet space at the play’s center. While everyone else is bound to someone in a not-exactly-love/hate relationship, Billy stands, albeit wobbly, alone. Perhaps in later performances Koehler will learn how to use his size — he appears to tower over most of the other actors — to play more effectively against type.

Billy’s is a cruel world, which doesn’t exactly excuse the physically ugly production at the Geffen. The scenery by Frank Hallinan Flood is oddly, disconcerting cubist — as if designed by a minor Picasso during his very obscure brown period. Chris Parry’s lighting is harsh and Matthew LeFebvre’s costumes are appropriately dull.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Geffen Playhouse; 498 seats; $40 top

Production: A Geffen Playhouse presentation of a play in two acts by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Joe Dowling.

Creative: Scenery, Frank Hallinan Flood; costumes, Matthew LeFebvre; lighting, Chris Parry; sound design, Frederick W. Boot; casting, Pat McCorkle. Opened, reviewed Oct. 28, 1998. Runs through Nov. 22. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MINS.

Cast: Eileen - Dearbhla Molloy Kate - Barbara Tarbuck Johnnypateenmike - Max Wright Billy - Fred Koehler Bartley - J.D. Cullum Helen - Derdriu Ring Babbybobby - Paul O'Brien Doctor McSharry - Thomas MacGreevy Mammy - Rosaleen Linehan

More Legit

  • All My Sons review

    Broadway Review: 'All My Sons' With Annette Bening

    Don’t be fooled by the placid backyard setting, neighborly small talk and father-son joviality at the start of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s blistering revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” starring Annette Bening and Tracy Letts. There are plenty of secrets, resentments and disillusionments ahead, poised to rip this sunny Middle Americana facade to shreds. [...]

  • A still image from The Seven

    How Magic Leap, Video Games Are Defining Future of Royal Shakespeare Company

    At the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon, Sarah Ellis has the difficult job of figuring out where theater of the 1500s fits into the 21st century. As Director of Digital Development, a title which might seem out of place in an industry ruled by live, human performances, Ellis represents a recent seachange on [...]

  • Gary review

    Broadway Review: 'Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus' With Nathan Lane

    Nathan Lane and Kristine Nielsen, two of the funniest people on the face of the earth, play street cleaners tasked with carting away the dead after the civil wars that brought down the Roman Empire. Well, a job’s a job, and Gary (Lane) and Janice (Nielsen) go about their disgusting work without complaint. “Long story [...]

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Three Sisters review

    London Theater Review: 'Three Sisters'

    Ennui has become exhaustion in playwright Cordelia Lynn’s new version of “Three Sisters.” The word recurs and recurs. Everyone on the Prozorov estate is worn out; too “overworked” to do anything but sit around idle. Are they killing time or is time killing them? Either way, a play often framed as a study of boredom [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content