‘Inishmaan’ – not a bad place to visit
By Donald V. Calamia
Remember in the not-so-distant past when Michigan’s film incentives brought plenty of excitement to towns all across the state? Well, multiply that reaction by at least three and the result is Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” a dark, Irish comedy that explores the tight bonds forged by individuals, families and their communities – and the fear of breaking them – now playing at Detroit’s Hilberry Theatre.
On a small Irish island circa 1934 – where gossip consists mostly of news about local barnyard animals – local blabbermouth Johnnypateenmike (Brent Griffith) arrives at the general store owned by sisters Kate (Sara Hymes) and Eileen (Lorelei Sturm) with astonishing news: a Hollywood film company will soon shoot a documentary in the nearby town of Inishmore. So siblings Bartley (Joshua Blake Rippy) and Helen (Megan Dobbertin) hire Babbybobby (Christopher Ellis) to ferry them across the water to observe the day’s events. When Billy (David Sterrit) learns of their plans, he decides to go along – but for an entirely different reason: Billy, you see, is known as “Cripple Billy” because of a birth defect, and the 18-year-old orphan (who has lived most of his life with his two “aunts”) views this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape what’s left of his sad, short life.
As with many dark, Irish comedies, death lurks along the fringes of “Inishmaan.” McDonagh’s play is deeper than that, however: It’s an exploration into the fabric that holds people together – even when it looks like there’s little to bind them. And McDonagh’s deeply layered script is filled with such relationships. (It’s also littered with salty language, so be forewarned.)
Under Lavinia Hart’s subtle direction, each actor creates a unique and fully developed character. And thanks to the fine dialect coaching of Michael J. Barnes, their Irish accents never waiver. (In fact, they’re almost TOO realistic!)
Especially notable is Sterrit. Not only is his Cripple Billy consistent from start to finish, his demeanor immediately elicits a sympathetic response from the audience that helps propel the story to its conclusion. And you can’t help but laugh at Rippy every time he appears on stage in search of “sweeties.”
Scene changes are fast thanks to a utilitarian set design by Curtis Green. But a rather jarring lighting change in Act Two made me wonder whether or not designer Jon Weaver planned it that way.
If, as McDonagh repeats many times, Ireland is not a “bad place” to visit, the same holds true of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” at the Hilberry!
SHOW DETAILS: “The Cripple of Inishmaan” plays in rotating repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, Wayne State University, Detroit, through Feb. 4. Tickets: $12-30. For information: 313-577-2972 or www.hilberry.com.