By Martin McDonagh; Directed by Michael Grandage
Broadway, Play Revival (Broadway Premiere)
Runs through 7.20.14
Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street
by Molly Marinik on 4.30.14
Daniel Radcliffe and Sarah Green in The Cripple of Inishmaan. Photo by Johan Persson.
BOTTOM LINE: People can be jerks, and that makes for very funny characters. This is readily apparent in The Cripple of Inishmaan, an early play from acclaimed writer Martin McDonagh, finally making its Broadway debut.
Poor Cripple Billy...or just Billy, if you don't mind. With a physical deformity and a penchant for staring at cows, he's used to being the butt of the joke in his small island town of Inishmaan. And these townsfolk are notoriously gossipy and cruel.
Martin McDonagh (The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore) has made a career out of crafting vile characters you can't help but love. In The Cripple of Inishmaan (which premiered in London in 1996 and is only now making it's Broadway debut in a biting production with the Michael Grandage Company), gossip is mistaken for news and the town aches for any exciting snippet to enliven their mundane existence. Johnnypatinmike (Pat Shortt) is a self-made "journalist" and he prides himself on his ability to gather "news," which he then tells folks in exchange for goods, usually of the edible variety.
When a real bit of news comes in -- that filmmakers from Hollywood are on neighboring Inishmore to make a movie -- the town naturally loses its collective shit. Young Bartley (Conor MacNeill) and his sister Helen (Sarah Greene) journey to Inishmore with Babbybobby (Padraic Delaney) to see if they can impress the film director themselves. Billy (Daniel Radcliffe) convinces Babbybobby to take him, much to the chagrin of his overprotective aunts Eileen (Gillian Hanna) and Kate (Ingrid Craigie), who have been caring for Billy since his parents drowned themselves when Billy was just a baby.
Hilarity indeed ensues. This is partly due to McDonagh's brilliant use of extreme characters doing downright nasty things to each other: Johnnypateenmike is trying to kill his 90-year old mother (June Watson) with alcohol and it's not a secret, even to her; Helen gets a rise out of picking on everyone, particularly Billy; and even Billy's adorable aunts have choice words behind the backs of their neighbors.
In Grandage's superb production, the cast is a whirlwind of comedy and charm, never slowing down. The contrast in this alone -- the tittering excitement in an otherwise entirely dull town -- creates a perfect energy to support the humor. Though it is an ensemble show with all involved pulling their weight, it's no secret that Daniel Radcliffe is the star powering this machinery, at least on the business end of the production. Luckily Radcliffe is a fine actor who has proven his chops on stage and screen before. And he does an excellent job here.
There were a bunch of kids in the audience of the performance I attended, no doubt to see Harry Potter on stage, and though McDonagh couldn't be much farther from JK Rowling in terms of entertainment offering, there's something kind of amazing to the idea that a kid's first theatrical experience might be from one of the most brilliant dark comedy writers of today. This is by no means a children's show, but if parents aren't offended by a "feck" here or there, I suppose it's not entirely inappropriate.
The Cripple of Inishmaan is a hilarious show with substantial twists and turns to keep the audience actively engaged throughout. Both local and touring productions have played in New York before, but this Broadway debut proves the play's worth as a wonderful piece of writing and a brilliant ensemble show. We are lucky to have Grandage's production on our shores.
(The Cripple of Inishmaan plays at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street, through July 20, 2014. Performances are Tuesdays at 8PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 8PM; Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 8PM. Tickets are $27-$152 and are available at telecharge.com.)