The remote Aran Islands off the coast of Western Ireland are an unlikely setting for a Hollywood film, so when the culturally famished residents of Inishmaan hear that a Los Angles film crew has arrived at the neighboring Island of Inishmore to film a movie, everyone begins clamoring for a moment in the spotlight.
Such is the premise of celebrated Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy “The Cripple of Inishmaan” put on by Basement Arts this weekend. The show is the valiant undertaking for Music senior Rachel Brody, who chose McDonagh tough script as her senior directing thesis. McDonagh, who was awarded the London Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards for Most Promising Playwright in 1996, took Broadway by strom in 2005 with his thriller “The Pillowman.”
The show opens in the general store of Cripple Billy’s “aunties,” two quirky but loveable women who raised him after the mysterious death of his parents. A trio of two violins and a guitar provide the necessary Celtic music, and the rustic wooden set effectively transports the audience into the humorously bleak world of Inishmaan.
The sad irony of the show comes from McDonaugh’s engaging protagonist, Cripple Billy. Despite being physically disfigured and publicly ridiculed, he is obviously the sanest of the emotionally handicapped bunch.
Auntie Kate spends her time talking to stones, while her uncannily similar counterpart Auntie Eileen eats gobs of “sweeties” to drown her troubles. Of course, the small Irish village would not be complete without a town gossip. Self-proclaimed “newsman” Johnnypeteenmike fuels the play with scraps of rumors and minor scandals.
“The Cripple of Inishmaan” takes place in the early 1930s, a tidbit of information the audience only gets with Johnnypeteenmike’s remarks about a nice young fella with a funny mustache seems to be risin’ to power in Germany. “Good luck to him!” Johnnypeteenmike exclaims, happily throwing the newspaper aside.
But the desperate boredom in Inishman also lends itself to gratuitous cruelty, of which Cripple Billy usually bears the brunt. One particularly horrible rumor has haunted Billy since childhood – that his parents drowned themselves after learning he was disfigured.
A reprieve from the hum-drum of island life comes when Johnnypeteenmike spreads the news that the film crew has landed on the neighboring island of Inishmore. This storyline is actually based off the filming of “Man of Aran,” a historical documentary filmed in the 1934 about life on the desolate Aran Islands.
The object of Cripple Billy’s subtle lust, Slippy Helen, and her hilariously bizarre brother Bartly secure a boat ride over to Inishmore with an elder islander, and Cripple Billy fenegles a way to tag along. When he doesn’t return at the end of the filming, rumors fly about the L.A. film crew picking up Cripple Billy to make him a movie star in America.
But as in every McDonaugh play, things aren’t always as they seem, and this dense and darkly complex show takes many twists and turns before the curtain falls.
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m.
At the Walgreen Drama Center, Studio 1