Charles Petzold

Summer Theatre: “The Cripple of Inishmaan”

July 29, 2007
Roscoe, N.Y.

It seems we've been catching up with the works of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh in recent years: In 2005 we saw Billy Crudup, Jeff Goldblum, and Željko Ivanek in the hair-raising The Pillowman at the Booth Theatre in New York City, and last year we saw the gory and funny The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Lyceum Theatre.

Last night we drove to Ellenville in nearby Ulster County to see McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan in the app. 150-seat Shadowload Theatre, which puts on several plays and one musical during their summer season.

The Cripple of Inishmaan (1996) is the first play in McDonagh's Aran Islands Trilogy. The plays are named after the three Aran Islands (Inishmann, Inishmore, and Inisheer) located off the west coast of Ireland. Apparently the third play The Banshees of Inisheer has not yet been staged.

The Cripple of Inishmann takes place against a real-life event — the filming of Robert Flaherty's 1934 documentary Man of Aran. When they hear that the movie people have arrived, the young adults of the play are eager to get their faces in front of the camera, and especially Billy, who has a congenitally deformed arm and leg but who prefers not to be known as Cripple Billy. Billy has grown up hearing the story that his parents drowned themselves off the coast of the island when he was an infant, and he has been raised by two unrelated "aunts." His two primary hobbies are reading and gazing at cows, and he sees getting noticed by the Hollywood crew as his only chance of escape off the island.

The Cripple of Inishmann is full of quirky characters well acted by the Shadowland cast, and a characteristic McDonagh mix of comedy, wickedness, and sudden violence.