by Malcolm Willison…….
Hurry, hurry, it’s your last chance. Yes, to see the Red Barn production of the London and Broadway success, “The Cripple of Inishmaan”, which ends its well-received run this very Saturday, May 14. The vibrant, even over-the-top play is by “Anglo-Irish” Martin McDonagh, most widely known for his recent film “In Bruges.” The current play is about the intense interactions of the fictional Irish living on a real island, Inishmaan, out in Galway Bay, especially the excitement that courses through the community in 1934 when they hear that a famous American movie director, Robert J. Flaherty (most famous for “Nanook of the North”), has come to a neighboring Irish West Coast island, Innishmore, to film their life (which would be released in 1934 as “Man of Aran,” also a well-known semi-documentary.
The “Cripple” Billy (skillfully played by Arthur Crocker) determines to escape his demeaning life on Inishmaan. He is crippled not only by what turns out to have been an infant “accident,” but by the scorn of his fellow islanders. An orphan, the “Cripple” is sick of living with his two “aunts,” critical Eileen and worry-wart Kate (each convincingly portrayed with nicely contrasting performances by Vanessa McCaffrey and Peggy Montgomery). He escapes to the filming site—and his real goal, the semi-mythical “America”– through the gruff help and sturdy boat of Babbybobby Bennett (persuasively performed by Ross Pipkin), with the scoffing but ultimately affectionate and support of Helen, the foul-mouthed but free-spirited young woman who shocks the village (played with great verve and conviction by new Red Barn actress Aleister Eaves). Helen’s brother Barley is a sweets-loving innocent (whose cluelessness is ably shown by Charlie Lawrence).
But it is the town gossip Johnnypateenmike (a busy-body with a heart of gold most convincingly conveyed by Doug Shook) who snoops and sniffs out and carries around town the “latest news,” gossip true and false. In the end, this tale-teller fails to kill off with drink his feisty but ancient bed-ridden already-alcoholic mother (hilariously played by Robin Deck). But in the end, when Billy returns, still crippled physically but ready to accept love, and death, does the tattler explain the “Cripple’s” family history and his own role in saving Billy as an infant despite his “accident.” Doc McSharry (nicely done by Tom Murtha) manages to keep everyone, including the old mother alive.
The tiny stage set and its lighting by Gary McDonald beautifully convey the rough island and the stark lives of its denizens. The play’s director, Carole MacCartee, has ably trained her characters in a broad, lilting, even musical Irish brogue. Their expressive talk and movement carry the play’s many shifting verbal (and physical) exchanges and powerful emotions, and lead to its stunning, even melodramatic conclusion.