Once again, the incomparable Antaeus Theatre Company has given theatregoers a brilliant revival of an exquisite play, this time with Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, which opened in London in1996, and was subsequently produced in New York and Los Angeles in 1998. Set in the small Aran Island community of Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) in 1934, the play bursts with comedy tinged with pathos, peopled with utterly unique, indelible characters, each and every one fully rounded. They are innocent and treacherous, vain and pure-hearted, naughty with passion, devilish, smart and stupid; the full range of a certain type of humanity.
Billy Claven (Ian Littleworth), an orphan crippled at birth has been raised by kindly, doting, adoptive aunties, the sisters Kate (Rhonda Aldrich) and Eileen Osbourne (Julia Fletcher), who run a primitive, poorly-stocked store for the village. The women are protective of Billy, a dreamy, intelligent young man who limps around the village stopping now and then to read a book or stare at cows. He wistfully yearns after the vain, fierce, beautiful siren, Helen (Emily Goss), who is wicked of tongue and physically abusive of those around her, especially her not-too-bright brother, Bartley (Sebastian Fernandez).
Stephen Caffrey dominates the stage as Johnnypateenmike, the village gossip who functions as an ad hoc newspaper as he goes around snooping, overhearing, and wheedling to gain information that he parcels out parsimoniously in order to gain a favor here or there. A large man and a physical coward, he has a touching, tenuous, love-hate relationship with his elderly mother, Mammy (Anne Gee Byrd), a sharp-tongued, jolly, ninety-year-old alcoholic doing her best to drink herself to death.
Johnnypateenmike learns of a Hollywood crew filming on a neighboring island (a clear reference to Robert Flaherty’s 1934 pseudo-documentary, Man of Aran), which sparks Helen to enlist boatman Babbybobby (John Bobek) to give her a lift to the neighboring island where she might get noticed by the filmmakers. And Billy wheedles passage too. Rounding out the denizens of Inishmaan, Doctor McSharry (John Allee) does what he can to keep the village healthy.
This superb cast under the excellent direction of Steven Robman, brings the play to vivid life with great humor and superb dialect work that captures the music of the Irish accent (kudos to dialect coach Lauren Lovett). The comedy is sharp and physical and keeps the audience giggling and guffawing except when affect takes command.
The show benefits from the excellent work of the creative team. They are scenic designer, John Iacovelli; co-lighting and co-projection designers, Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson; props designer Erin Walley; costume designer Garry Lennon; sound designer, Jeff Gardner; production stage manager, Jessaica Shields; and fight choreographer, Bo Foxworth.
As is traditional at Antaeus Theatre Company, The Cripple of Inishmaan is partner-cast, with two sets of actors sharing the roles. I saw The Yalla-Mallows (the cast name always comes from a reference in the script; yalla-mallows is a sweet treat sold by Billy’s aunties). The other cast is named The Fripple-Frapples, and they are Anne Gee Byrd, JD Cullum, Seamus Dever, Mary-Pat Green, Matthew Grondin, Joey Millin, Phil Proctor, Kitty Swink, and Abby Wilde.
Do not miss the opportunity to see this brilliant production of a great play. The Antaeus Theatre Company production of The Cripple of Inishmaan runs through March 11 at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway in Glendale.