Monday, October 31, 2011

Experience The Cripple of Inishmaan

by Matthew Falduto

Iowa City - The Cripple of Inishmaan is a vicious show. The characters are cruel, violence is accepted as a matter of course, and words bite. Fortunately, it's also extremely funny.

This show is a cooperative production between Riverside Theatre and Cornell College. The play is short on plot and long on interesting characters. We follow the story of Cripple Billy (Osean Perez), who objects to the adjective in front of his name, but that dissatisfaction falls on deaf ears. Even his "aunts", two spinster sisters who have raised him, can't stop calling him "Cripple." He longs to escape his little town and uses the arrival of a film crew as a means to that end. While this play seems to be Billy's story, strangely we stay with the colorful characters of Inishmaan instead of deeply delving into Billy's adventure. The secondary characters are fascinating, but this is where the plot seems a little thin. Nevertheless, the play is very enjoyable as we are treated to riveting characters.

Perez is marvelous as Billy, evoking empathy with just a look or simple gesture. He also wonderfully contorts his body and maintains that physical form for the entire show in what appears to be an effortless performance. Perez delivers a truly impressive level of physicality.

As the spinster sisters, Kristy Hartsgrove and Jody Hovland are perfectly hilarious. In the opening scene, as they lament the fact that Billy will never find a wife, their cruel barbs are delivered so matter of factly, we can't help but laugh even as we wince. Hartsgrove is always good at this sort of comedy and Hovland manages to meet her comic thrust for comic thrust.

The sisters' store is the setting for much of the play. Scenographer Christopher Domanski created a wonderful yet simple set for the store, complete with many accoutrements and all of the little details that allow us to believe we are where we're supposed to be.

Tim Budd plays Johnnypateenmike, the town gossip who trades information for food or other items from the sisters' general store. Budd is also funny, though he does have difficulty maintaining the accent. Budd's best scenes are with his alcoholic Mammy, memorably rendered by Corinne Johnson. Brother and sister Helen and Bartley are played by Anna Sewell and Alexander Justin Gonzales respectively. Both play unlikable characters, but Sewell turns in an exceptionally vulnerable performance, allowing the audience to care for her despite her wanton cruelty.

Finally, I cannot complete this review without mentioning the wonderful Celtic music that permeates the play. Local group The Beggarmen's rhythmic tones complete our journey to the Irish island of Innishmaan.

I strongly encourage you to experience this play. Martin McDonagh has established himself as one of the most important playwrights of our day. And as far as McDonagh plays go, The Cripple of Inishmaan is actually not nearly as dark or violent as most. What's more, in the hands of the talented artists at Riverside and Cornell College, this play delivers the laughs.

1 comment:

ICTheatreGuy said...

This was emailed to the Iowa Theatre Blog from Tim Budd who asked that it be posted as a comment.

"Now that "The Cripple of Inishmaan" has closed, I feel free to comment on Mr. Falduto's review of the show -- more specifically, his criticism of my dialect work.

"Cripple" was my fifth production requiring the use of an Irish accent. My third production, "The Lonesome West" (also by Mr. McDonagh, and also at Riverside Theatre, in 2006), caused one reviewer to comment that all four cast members had the Irish brogue down perfectly. After that, in 2008, I was in "Stones in His Pockets" by Marie Jones -- my fellow cast member told me that my Irish accent was better than his. Three years later, that actor was the dialect coach for "Cripple". So I feel my dialect work is solid; I can't imagine it deteriorating, but only improving.

In "Cripple", I was playing an older character with little or no education and I wanted my dialect to reflect that. Perhaps it was too thick or too strong for Mr. Falduto's taste and ear; perhaps he felt my dialect work wasn't very good. But it was consistent. To say that I "had difficulty maintaining the accent" would be incorrect. If Mr. Falduto can't achieve accuracy in his criticisms, he should at least strive for clarity.

And why single me out among a cast of nine, some of whom were much looser in their dialect work than myself? One can only guess, but a criticism on one performer's technical work in a play should include a comment on the success of that work among the entire cast and/or the production as a whole.

Criticism is valid when it opens our eyes to things we may have missed, or when it points us toward things we shouldn't miss, but it serves no purpose when it is untrue and unwarranted. More often than not, this blog gives glowing reviews to productions that my theatre peers have very different reactions to upon seeing them. If the Theatre Blog posts reviews that give praise to productions that aren't so praiseworthy, and then posts negative comments in reviews that are completely unfounded, how can we trust their criticism? What purpose do their reviews then serve? My answers would be we can't, and none. The blog and its writers should stick to keeping its readers abreast of what's happening theatrically in the area. And leave the reviewing to the audiences.

-- Tim Budd"