The current production of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan is the reason why we go to see live theatre. With so many shows being mediocre at best or battling it out for the coveted slot of "worst play I've seen all season," it is no small relief to witness a performance that so firmly sets the standard for the other side of the scale.
There is little room for complaint in the masterful telling of this most engaging tale, co-produced by The Atlantic Theatre and Druid.Aaron Monaghan, playing the title role of Cripple Billy, crafts an underdog of multiple layers. His physical work is immediately noticeable and so convincing that it takes the curtain call to prove that he is not actually handicapped. His commitment to the character's deformities and ability to make them his own by personalizing the way he manages to function with them is stunning. Avoiding any opportunity towards the angelic, Monaghan's Billy is thoroughly human and shameless in pursuing what he desires. He holds a strong stage presence while remaining true to the character's physical weakness, presenting a lovely, twisted rose in the center of this bouquet of thorns and thistles.
Another stand-out performance is given by David Pearse, playing the role of Johnny Pateen, the village buttinski and spreader of local news. Pearse plays this humorous, quirky character with all his dirty laundry on the outside and manages to remain likeable; leaving it easy for the audience to believe that he is secretly capable of acts of great kindness. The reverse of this is true of Andrew Connolly's stern Babby Bobby, who is the believable usher of both charity and violence. Kerry Condon makes an unlikely ingénue hidden in a very attractive yet raw, nail-biting exterior; her Helen is both crass and loveable, a sensitive little girl covered by an exterior of well-developed calluses. The entire company has a strong grasp on the balance between pathos and comedy and when to tip which way, easily making this one of the most well-cast ensembles of the season.
At the head of this proud production is director Garry Hynes, making her first return to the Atlantic stage since her Tony-winning direction of The Beauty Queen Leenane. Hynes clearly has a keen eye and a sharp ear for McDonagh, one of the best playwrights of our time. Even with this being one of the most empathetic treatments of McDonagh's commonly Irish subjects, Cripple still has the potential for stereotypes, which Hynes artfully escapes at every turn. Hynes demonstrates a clear command of balance with these characters and an understanding of this story and how it should be told.
Francis O'Connor's set is a finely oiled machine, creating a fitting world for these characters to live in while allowing seamless scene changes to accommodate different settings. Davy Cunningham provides a rich palate in his light design, accurately enhancing the shifting moods from moment to moment.
This production has already been extended twice. I have only one word for the producers: BROADWAY! - C. Jefferson Thom
The Cripple of Inishmaan is playing at The Atlantic's Linda Gross Theater and is currently running until March 15. Tues-Fri @ 8, Sat @ 2 & 8, Sun @ 2 & 7
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.