Saturday, June 16, 2012

Redtwist Provides Commendable Treatment of 'The Cripple of Inishmaan' -- Theater Review

Theater Review

The Cripple of Inishmaan
a play by Martin McDonagh
directed by Kimberly Senior
Redtwist Theatre, Chicago
Thru July 1

Excepting perhaps David Mamet--though more so for his work through 1992--Martin McDonagh is my favorite contemporary playwright.

I have not yet seen his most recent play, A Behanding in Spokane, which received disappointing reviews when it opened on Broadway in 2010, but after taking in a strong rendition of The Cripple of Inishmaan at Chicago's Redtwist Theatre, I have now seen five of McDonagh's stage works--as well as a film, In Bruges, that he wrote and directed--and have very much liked them all.

I'll let Wikipedia supply you with McDonagh's bio--he's an Irishman who grew up in London--and the full chronology of the plays he has had published and produced; of these, other than Behanding, I have only yet to see A Skull in Connemara.

First produced in late 1996, The Cripple of Inishmaan is one of McDonagh's earliest works, written when he was in his mid-20s (or perhaps even earlier). It is the first play of his "Aran Islands Trilogy," although the third in the series was never published or produced.

Set in 1934, the play is set in the small Aran Islands community of Inishmaan off Ireland's west coast. It revolves loosely around the filming of a real (yet fictionalized) documentary called Man of Aran, which is a pretty big deal to the local residents including the play's titular character, a young man named Billy--well-played by Josh Salt--who is partially deformed.

Although The Cripple of Inishmaan is neither as laugh-out-loud funny or overtly violent--two McDonagh trademarks--as the subsequent The Lieutenant of Inishmore, it does contain a substantial amount of dark humor, ribald language and interpersonal viciousness.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Loughlin
But along with being a highly entertaining character study of a collection of Irish villagers--over the course of 2 hours, McDonagh's script richly embodies 9 characters--The Cripple of Inishmaan succeeds due the substantial heart at its core.

As usual, Redtwist makes optimal use of its adaptable storefront space, with the audience members practically within Inishmaan themselves. And as with her masterful production of McDonagh's The Pillowman in the same space, director Kimberly Senior--who also has helmed several other excellent plays I've seen--draws highly believable performances, including understandable brogues, from the top-notch cast.

Salt's Billy is equal parts victimized, vulnerable and resilient, while as his pretty, brash crush Helen, Baize Buzan helps the audience sense the rationale behind and the longing beneath her salty exterior. Brian Parry is also terrific as Johnnypateenmike, who peddles news about the town's residents to its other residents.

Offering plenty of face value entertainment, including some surprising twists, complemented by appreciable depth and insight, The Cripple of Inishmaan is a first-rate play by a terrific writer, and Redtwist's stellar production provides a perfectly formidable introduction.

Based on the other local productions I've seen of McDonagh's oeuvre, I think I like Inishmaan a bit less than Lieutenant of Inishmore or The Pillowman, and a bit more than The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West. But I'm entirely glad I got this chance to see it, and even without HotTix availability, Redtwist's admission prices are quite reasonable.

This type of "storefront theater" is truly one of Chicago's most distinguishing cultural attractions--I'm not sure even New York or London offer similar quality by so many resident troupes--with this play and production serving as a prime example. I can imagine that even among people driving or walking east along Bryn Mawr, the Redtwist Theatre can easily be missed, but having been extended until July 1, The Cripple of Inishmaan deserves not to be. 

No comments: