Cripple Billy (Daniel Radcliffe) is not the only unusual moniker in The Cripple of Inishmaan. There’s Babbybobby (Padraic Delaney) and Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt) – and those are only the ones we meet. Who knows who else is lying around or resting in the graveyard? But Cripple Billy is the one who would like to be called Billy. Nevermind the Cripple bit. That he is cripple is plain to see – a shriveled arm and a leg that will not cooperate. So we don’t need to talk about it thank you.
This is a transition that barely causes a ripple in Inishmaan, mostly because no one pays attention to it. Mostly people live their lives not paying attention to one another in a very detailed way. These are folks whose balance is off if someone else tips the cart in an unexpected way. If Helen McCormick (Sarah Greene) throws stones at someone or breaks eggs on the head of her brother Bartley (Conor MacNeil) – THAT is not tipping the cart. Tipping the cart might be, say, running off to another place in the hopes of being in a film and then never returning.
Aye that would be tipping the cart.
Cripple Billy has been living with Kate (Ingrid Craigie) and Eileen Osbourne ((Gillian Hanna) for as long as he can remember. Since the night his parents drowned and left him an orphan he has been in their care. The two love him with that Irish kind of love: they will support him and complain about him in the same sentence. This is not two-faced. It is economical.
When Billy concocts a lie in order to barter for a boat ride off the island with Babbybobby, the two women are desolate. Especially Kate who takes up talking to stones when she is worried. The rest of their immediate community takes Billy’s disappearance in stride. Life is tenuous and often boring. Billy’s disappearance is proof of the unsettling facts as well as fodder for gossip that often depends on something as simple as a dead cat or a missing delivery of eggs.
Like McDonagh’s other works, The Cripple of Inishmaan is the story of folks who live lives of quiet desperation. They live where they live because that is where they were born, and a person doesn’t leave the place they were born. If God wanted them to live somewhere else, they would have been born there. They depend on rumor and stories to fuel their journey. They find color in the grey days and great meaning in the shortest of conversations.
This production is wildly uneven. For one thing there are as many different accents as there are actors, which is odd for a community that is practically incestuous. As for the violence that is always tucked into the folds of a McDonagh tale, it wasn’t believable. Helen, the town bully, comes off as a perky lass who probably talks more than she actually hurts folks. Her tales of violence delivered lack the ring of truth. The sisters’ repetition takes awhile to get going. Babbybobby appeared preoccupied with something else his entire time onstage. Johnnypateenmike was the clearest and most consistent character and performance. You could practically smell his unwashed hair and clothing. His Mammy (June Watson) however, had only one speed and that was a gear grinding full throttle. As for Radcliffe, he holds his own quite nicely. But the uneven quality of the evening is off putting – even the shelves of the little store belonging to the Osbourne sisters were removed from reality one too many steps.
All the inconsistencies drove me to read the script that I found packed with a language that is pure music. This is not what I saw or heard – but then it only seats one in my head. This is not a production to avoid, but I wouldn’t beat a path to it either.
The Cripple of Inishmaan – By Martin McDonagh; directed by Michael Grandage
WITH: Daniel Radcliffe (Billy), Ingrid Craigie (Kate Osbourne), Padraic Delaney (Babbybobby), Sarah Greene (Helen McCormick), Gillian Hanna (Eileen Osbourne), Gary Lilburn (Doctor), Conor MacNeill (Bartley McCormick), Pat Shortt (Johnnypateenmike) and June Watson (Mammy).
Sets and costumes by Christopher Oram; lighting by Paule Constable; music and sound by Alex Baranowski; hair design by Campbell Young; company manager, Thom Clay; associate director, Timothy Koch; production stage manager, Peter Wolf; production manager, Aurora Productions; associate producer, Just for Laughs; general manager, 101 Productions. A Michael Grandage Company production, presented by Michael Grandage Company, Arielle Tepper Madover, L.T.D. Productions, Stacey Mindich, Starry Night Entertainment, Scott M. Delman, Martin McCallum, Stephanie P. McClelland, Zeilinger Productions and the Shubert Organization. At the Cort Theater, 138 West 48th Street, Manhattan, 212-239-6200, crippleofinishmaan.com. Through July 20. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes.