Theatre Examiner declares “Inishmaan” guilty pleasure

‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ — guilty pleasure at The Hilberry Theatre.

, Detroit Theater Examiner

For the original article, click here.

Celebrated Irish playwright Martin McDonagh is known for his grim plays that explore the dark, sometimes violent themes that seem unique to the Irish psyche and literary milieu. So it is a genuine treat to see his comedy, The Cripple of Inishmaan, performed at Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre. Even if we feel guilty about laughing.

This production is directed by Detroit veteran Lavinia Hart, whose most recent WSU effort was the spectacular Cider House Rules. She hasn’t lost her touch.

Dark comedy is tricky. The Irish strain of dark comedy is fraught with discomfort. McDonagh’s brand of dark comedy teeters painfully close to the precipice, with a deadly drop into the rocky sea an ever possible punchline.

David Sterritt, Brent Grifith, and Chris Ellis

The Cripple of Inishmaan is the first play in McDonagh’s Aran Islands trilogy – set in the tiny community of Inishmaan, off the Western Coast of Ireland, circa 1934. In the play, the inhabitants are excited to learn that Hollywood film-maker Robert Flaherty will soon arrive at neighboring Inishmore to make a ‘docufiction’ film, The Man of Aran, about life on the islands. This is, by the way, a true piece of history with some juicy Michigan trivia: Robert Flaherty, better known as the creator of Nanook of the North, was born in Iron Mountain in 1884.

McDonagh takes this true story and knits it into a dark comedy that is as intricate and authentic as the wool fishing sweaters the islands are known for.  His unlikely hero is ‘Cripple’ Billy Claven.  Eager to escape the gossip, poverty and boredom of Inishmaan, Billy schemes for a part in the film, and to everyone’s surprise, the orphan and outcast gets his chance.  In a poor rural town starved for something to talk about, Cripple Billy quickly becomes everyone’s favorite topic.

This Hilberry production is captivating, entertaining, and very, very funny.  But be warned. It’s as if every burst of sunshine casts a long shadow. Little old ladies who drink whisky for breakfast and swear like sailors are funny, but alcohol poisoning is not. Chucking raw eggs at people as a signature form of protest is funny, but cruel mockery is not. Pursuing crazy schemes to fulfill one’s dreams can be funny, but despair is not. It never is.  Hart’s solid cast finds just the right pacing and note of authenticity. Laugh at your own risk – guilt will follow soon enough.

The outstanding Hilberry cast includes: Lorelei Sturm (Eileen), Sara Hymes (Kate), Brent Griffith (Johnnypateenmike), Joshua Rippy (Bartley), Megan Dobbertin (Helen), Christopher Ellis (Babbybobby), Danielle Cochrane (Mammy), Alec Barbour (Doctor), and David Sterritt (Billy).  The production team includes Veronica Zahn (Stage Manager), Mercedes Coley (Assistant Stage Manager), Peter Schmidt (Technical Director), Curtis Green (Scenic Designer), Leazah Behrens (Assistant Scenic Designer) Rudolph C. Schuepbach (Properties Master), Meghan Lynch (Sound Designer), Mary Leyendecker (Costume Designer), Jon Weaver (Lighting Designer), Alec Barbour (Fight Choreographer), Michael Wilkki (Paint Charge), and Jillian Zylinski (Publicist).

The Cripple of Inishmaan runs in rotating repertory at the Hilberry Theatre (with Frank Langella’s Cyrano) until February 4, 2012. Tickets are $12-$30 and are available by calling the Hilberry Theatre Box Office at (313) 577-2972, online, or by visiting the box office at 4743 Cass Avenue at Hancock. For exact dates and showtimes, visit the theatre website.

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