“Inishmaan” in the Detroit News

Life, truth rough in Hilberry’s ‘Inishmaan’

By Lawrence B. Johnson, Special to The Detroit News

Read original article here.

Joshua Blake Rippy, left, Lorelei Sturm, Megan Dobbertin and David Sterritt star in the play set on an Irish isle.
Joshua Blake Rippy, left, Lorelei Sturm, Megan Dobbertin and David Sterritt star in the play set on an Irish isle. (Wayne State University)

Life is rough in Martin McDonagh’s wry comedy “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” and among the weathered denizens of this small isle off the west coast of Ireland, hard truths come unvarnished.

That’s how actor David Sterritt, in the title role, sees McDonagh’s landscape from inside the production of “Inishmaan” now playing through Feb. 4 at Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre.

“It’s not politically correct to call him Cripple Billy, but to the people on the island that’s just reality,” says Sterritt, an Atlanta native in his first year in WSU’s graduate theater program. “Actually, Billy is a pretty complex character. At one point he says there are plenty of other people on the island who are crippled, it just doesn’t show on the outside.”

Now in early manhood, Billy — with the rest of his fellow islanders — is stirred to action when an American film company comes to the area to make a sort of documentary about these sea-faring people. McDonagh based the idea on an actual production in 1934 by filmmaker Robert Flaherty, who recruited Irish locals for all the acting parts. Despite his infirmities, Billy joins the starry-eyed throng hoping for at least fame, if not fortune.

Though the film production draws McDonagh’s characters together in a shared fascination, that fantasy serves mainly to shed light on these plain, rugged Irish folk and the shadowy line they walk between stark candor and whole-hearted dissembling.

“They’ve created their own little world,” says Sterritt, “and McDonagh surprises us with unexpected truths about them. Billy may be the most normal of them all. When he hears about the film, that’s something real he can latch onto. He’s treated horribly and he wants more than anything to get off the island, to get away.”

Yet there is one inhabitant of Inishmaan who charms Billy’s life — a girl about his age called Helen, or Slippy Helen as the locals would have it, an apparent reference to her murky reputation. Billy has an eye for her, even if she generally has only harsh words for him. Helen is one flinty lass.

“But Billy can talk to Helen, and the mere fact that she talks to him gives him hope,” says Sterritt.

Indeed, the mere act of talking — in a rigorously coached Galway accent — is also one of the plays great challenges, he says. Another, for him, is getting about on a “crippled” right foot that he must keep turned in at a severe angle toward the arch of his left foot.

“I have to turn my right hip and keep most of my weight on my left leg,” he says. “I’ve worked on it a lot with a movement coach.”

Bringing this motley bunch to credible life, Sterritt says, has been the knowing work of veteran Detroit director Lavinia Hart.

“She drove home the point about the harshness of these people’s lives and their personal truths,” he says. “Lavinia helped us see them as real people, and to create that on stage, to make characters — not caricatures but three-dimensional humans.”

‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’

Through Feb. 4

Hilberry Theatre

4841 Cass Ave., Detroit

Tickets $25-$30

Call (313) 577-2972


Lawrence B. Johnson is a cultural writer and critic. lawrencebj@gmail.com


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