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.