It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. One might add it takes a major film star to bring plays to Broadway. Every season several well known film actors take a stab at performing on the Great White Way. Most only do so once or twice. The dedicated ones return again and again lending their names to productions that would not happen without their name featured prominently on the marquee.
The relatively new Michael Grandage Company was started by Mr. Grandage and James Bierman following their successful work together at the Donmar Warehouse in London. They have been responsible for several award winning productions, including the Tony Award winner, Red. They have a knack for selecting A-list actors with genuine theater skills. With this Broadway premiere production of Martin McDonagh's 1996 The Cripple of Inishmaan, Michael Grandage places trust in Daniel Radcliffe.
Mr. Radcliffe has broadened his acting resume with three appearances on stage. Equus on the West End and Broadway, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying on Broadway and now The Cripple of Inishmaan, again following a successful run in London. The marquee features a trio of portraits of Mr. Radcliffe, clearly recognizing that he is the reason many people will purchase tickets to the show. It does not matter why the seats are filled, the truth is that this tale of a poor eccentric Irish community gets an audience.
Written in 1996, The Cripple of Inishmaan tells the story of a small Irish village that scrapes a living through fishing and living for mundane gossip. When word comes that Hollywood is making a film on the nearby island of Inishmore, it provides the hope of something life-changing particularly for the titular character. However, being that this is Mr. McDonagh, there are twists and turns and moments of violence that keep The Cripple of Inishmaan a true dark comedy.
Mr. Grandage directs in such a manner that the players truly become members of the island community of Inishmaan. Aided by Christopher Oran's earth tone design palette for the sets and costumes this is a barren island existence.
What makes this production work as well as it does is that it is truly an ensemble piece. Daniel Radcliffe's name is above the title and he takes a star solo bow, but he is one cog in the community. His Cripple Billy is the dreamer with a horribly twisted body that spends his time reading and staring at cows always wondering the truth of his parents' drowning death when he was an infant. This is Mr. Radclffe's most mature stage performance. His physical choices are grueling, yet fully committed and his performance is filled with heartache that reaches the farthest seat in the balcony.
Raised by the sisters Eileen and Kate Osbourne who are played with understated common sense by Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie. They seem relatively normal despite odd behavior such as Kate's talking to stones when she is stressed. In tandem, Ms. Hanna and Ms. Craigie are a delight whether they are bantering over Kate's repetitive worrying or Eileen's secret hoarding of prized sweets.
Padraic Delaney shows compassion as Babbybobby, the fisherman who grants Billy's wish to travel to Inishmore against his Aunts' wishes. His quiet nature hides an unexpected violent twist when he learns that Billy used Babbybobby's past to get him to cooperate. The two younger members of the community are sweet craving and telescope dreaming Bartley McCormick, portrayed by Conor MacNeill, and his hot-tempered sister, Helen. Sarah Greene's Helen is a scary force of nature. There is no question that she commands everyone the moment she enters the scene. Ms. Greene's Helen is scary and violent, but also pretty beneath her unkempt red hair. It is easy for the audience to see that no one, least of all Billy should desire Helen, especially when she gives him as much contempt and bullying behavior as she does everyone else. Yet, one can understand Billy's attraction for the one person who shows her emotions openly and isn't afraid to speak the truth, unlike everyone else whom he interacts with on a daily basis.
Mr. McDonagh creates odd characters and it is a credit to the actors that their weird behavior does not stream into caricature. No more could that be than by town gossip Johnnypateenmike who seems plucked from a Dickens novel in his interpretation by Pat Shortt. Equally extreme could be Johnnypat's Mammy, the 90 year old he is trying to kill with whiskey. Portrayed by June Watson, she is a meld of Irish bluff and the fountain of knowledge of the island's past history. The one sane member of the community is Gary Liburn's Doctor a steady force whose ministrations knit the weaving story together.
If you are coming to see The Cripple of Inishmaan solely because Daniel Radcliffe is headlining, good for you. If you are a fan of the work of Martin McDonagh excited to see this play finally come to Broadway, excellent. If you are someone who craves great performances and a funny but heartbreaking evening of theatre, please choose to see The Cripple of Inishmaan. You will not regret it.
The Michael Grandage Company's production of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan is being performed at the Cort Theatre in New York City in a limited engagement through July 20, 2014. For tickets and other performance information please visit crippleofinishmaan.com or telecharge.com