The Cripple of Inishmaan, Berkeley

Written by:
Suzanne Weiss
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The Cripple of Inishmaan

By Martin McDonagh
Presented by Druid, North American tour in association with Atlantic Theater Company
Directed by Garry Hynes
Sponsored by Cal Performances
Zellerbach Playhouse, Berkeley
May 4-14, 2011

Cripple Billy, his limbs deformed since birth, would like to be called just plain Bill. Good luck with that! In the hilariously twisted world of Martin McDonagh anything bad that can possibly happen probably will and a lot of it happens to the hapless hero of “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” His name is the least of it. But then again, Billy does get to go to Hollywood, which is more than any of the other miserable denizens of his isolated Irish hamlet can say. That Hollywood spits him back up upon his home shores may be beside the point. Or perhaps it is the point of this very funny, if overlong, play.

Druid, the Galway-based theater that introduced McDonagh to the world with its Tony Award-winning production of “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” has been touring North America and Ireland with “Cripple” and the ensemble cast really knows its stuff by now, beginning with Tadhg Murphy (actually a pretty good looking guy, as you will discover at the curtain call) as the bookish, shuffling island orphan who can’t find out if his parents killed themselves because they loved him or hated him. Billy’s principal occupation, in addition to reading, is staring at cows. He lives with two adoptive “aunts” who run the local grocery: the sensible (and very funny) Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) and Kate (Ingrid Craigie) who worries a lot and holds conversations with stones.

Then there is the thoroughly obnoxious JohnnyPateenMike (Dermot Crowley), the human newspaper, who trades his bits and pieces of (mostly boring) gossip for food from the grocery shelves and who is trying (unsuccessfully) to poison his mother with the drink she adores. Mammy O’Dougal (Nancy E. Carroll) is resisting his efforts by living into her 90s, delightfully drunk. Slippy Helen (Clare Dunne) is a pretty girl whose cruelty knows no bounds. Her favorite pastime is throwing eggs at people and things, as well as trading sexual favors for what she wants. Billy has a horrible crush on her and good luck to him with that. Her brother Bartley (Laurence Kinlan) is a right fool with a streak of his sister’s meanness in him. The cast is rounded out by BabbyBobby (Liam Carney), a fisherman who is as prone to violence as kindness, and the town doctor (Paul Vincent O’Connor) who seems to be the only normal person around and, accordingly, has a rather small part.

If you ever doubted that sheer stupidity is funny, you have to meet these folks. They are a riot. But, as in all McDonagh’s work, the laughs are mingled with sadness and shock. “Cripple” is not as violent as “Beauty Queen” or the movie “In Bruges” and lacks the sheer horror to be found in “Pillowman.” But the ironies of life are not lost on this playwright and, no sooner does something really nice happen, its opposite comes along. Kindness lives side by side with violence in McDonagh’s universe but his saving grace is that he brings out the funny side of both. It’s a guarantee that you will laugh your head off at “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” Until you cry.

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