Monday, January 5, 2009
BOTTOM LINE: Wonderful characters, witty banter, sharp writing and exceptional production value make for a fun playgoing experience. When you're on Cripple Billy's journey you never know what will happen next.
I am an undeniably huge fan of Martin McDonagh's work, so this review is perhaps a bit biased. And with that admission, I'll just lay it out for you: if you don't like dark comedy, or violence, or despicable name-calling, or jokes at others' expenses, or manipulative storytelling, or witty one-liners, or the Irish...then The Cripple of Inishmaan is not for you. You can stop reading. Go see Mamma Mia instead. If however, you enjoy plays where the characters ooze imperfection with the most genuine appeal, run to Atlantic Theater Company to see this show. I will now step off my soap box.
McDonagh is an Irish playwright who weaves stories about the darkest of situations beautifully and with an extrordinary sense of humor. His previous work includes The Pillowman (Tony Award winner for Best Play in 2005), The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Tony nominated for Best Play in 2006) and The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Tony nominated for Best Play in 1998), as well as last year's movie In Bruges, which McDonagh wrote and directed. This production of The Cripple of Inishmaan is a revival; it was previously produced at The Public Theatre in 1998. The Atlantic Theatre Company and McDonagh have a history of collaboration, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Cripple gets plucked for a Broadway run of its own, as has happened with his other plays that began off-Broadway at Atlantic. This show is co-produced with Druid Theatre Company.
Cripple, directed by Garry Hynes, is set on the small island of Inishmaan off the coast of Ireland, in 1934. News quickly spreads that American filmmakers are on a neighboring island casting a new movie and everyone wants to get in on the action. Billy (or Cripple Billy as his friends and family affectionately call him), is a humble teenage with physical deformities who has never really been accepted. Babbybobby (or, the guy with the boat) is taking some locals to see the filmmakers and Billy convinces Babbybobby to take him along, much to the shock and concern of his two elderly aunts. What transpires afterward leaves you guessing and totally invested in the story. Sorry I can't tell you more, but I'd hate to ruin it for you. McDonagh is the king of presenting a puzzle and slowly putting the pieces together as you watch the story develop (although just because a piece fits, it doesn't mean it's in the right spot).
Cripple is acted well by everyone in the ensemble; there isn't a weak link in the bunch. All of the characters exude a sad compassion but still understand the contagious humor that underlies each scene. And for what it's worth, Atlantic Theater Company puts on a damn good show. The production value is impressive for an off-Broadway event with sophisticated sets, costumes and lighting design. But this show still feels right in its small venue, it's hard to imagine it being as endearing in a big, impersonal Broadway theatre. Check out The Cripple of Inishmaan while you still can, the limited engagement ends March 1st.
(The Cripple of Inishmaan plays at The Linda Gross Theatre at Atlantic Theater Company, 336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. Show times are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $65 each, or use discount code PLAYCRIP for $49.50 tickets, but only until January 15th. For tickets visit ticketcentral.com or call 212.279.4200.)