Billy Claven (Tadhg Murphy) is an orphaned, crippled boy who spends most of his time staring at cows and reading books on the island of Inishmaan off the Irish coast, where he lives with his two aunts.
While many of us may also enjoy books or even cows, that mere connection would leave little reason for the average L.A. theatergoer to care about a decidedly Irish play.
Presented by the Druid Theatre Company, “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” written by Martin McDonagh and directed by Garry Hynes, runs through May 1 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
The company’s five-month tour of the U.S. and its home country of Ireland will conclude on the real island of Inis MeÃ¡in, after which Inishmaan is named, where themes of Irish pride and identity in the play will no doubt be brought to the forefront.
But it may do even more for audiences right here in Los Angeles.
Set in 1934, the play opens on the lush but rustic sea-green set (by Francis O’Connor) of a local foods store with Billy’s two aunts Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) and Kate (Ingrid Craigie), standing behind the counter. While nothing really happens at first ““ they banter and worry over why Billy hasn’t come back from the doctor’s ““ the dialogue is chock-full of liveliness and humor that is immediately engaging.
And nothing seems to disturb the rhythm of the small island until the local gossip or “news man” JohnnyPateenMike (Dermot Crowley) visits and delivers his first ever piece of news that isn’t boring (usually opting to talk about quarrels between neighbors’ animals and sheep deformities), and even then, you won’t expect it.
An American director named Robert Flaherty, based on the real-life filmmaker, wants to make a movie about the life of people on the islands. He’s come to Ireland for a casting call and will select one person to bring with him back to Hollywood.
It’s the chance of a lifetime that the people of Inishmaan, even “Cripple Billy,” with his one-to-a-million odds, can’t pass up.
It’s the dream that brought many in the audience to the city of Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, in the first place. It’s a dream that many in attendance at the opening night have even achieved (which a celebrity sighting of Colin Farrell confirmed).
The play follows Billy’s literal and emotional journey to escape from Inishmaan and his subsequent realization of his Irish identity. Billy comes to see that the most important things in life are the people who love and have always been around him.
The riveting first act leaves the audience with hardly a pause to stop laughing. But Act II falls far short of the ingenuity and authenticity exuded in the first act, turning to rely instead on dramatic plot turns in the story that was at one point particularly ludicrous.
However, the ending was treated with grace and returned to Act I’s effortless turn of events, slightly surprising yet credible. It is a mixture of the dreams that can perhaps only be achieved in a play and the simple if harsh reality that theater also purports to embody.
In a memorable setup where the characters watch Flaherty’s final film, seated in chairs across the stage, facing the audience, looking isolated and bored, the relationship between the stage and screen world is undeniable.
It’s as if the lens has also been turned incredulously onto the Hollywood audience, and by the end of the night, the people of Inishmaan and good old-fashioned theater certainly wins out.
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