Review: The Cripple of Inishmaan (Druid Theatre)


Savage Irish humor at its finest


Tadhg Murphy in Ireland's Druid Theatre Company's The Cripple of Inishmaan, playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Druid Theatre i/a/w Chicago Shakespeare presents
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Garry Hines
at Chicago Shakespeare, Navy Pier (map)
through March 27   |  tickets: $46-$56  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Ireland must not be such a bad place, if it has superlative companies like the Druid Theatre. Chicago Shakespeare’s World Stage Series brings us their tour with The Cripple of Inishmaan, in the nick of time for the wearin’ of the green. What could be finer around St. Patrick’s Day than a comedy that digs deep into a history of poverty, rife with all the leftover indignities of colonization, to uncover a deliciously perverse pride in one’s lowly and misbegotten state? (Well, maybe a pint—but that you can get for yourself.) Director Garry Hines and her consummate cast serve up Martin McDonagh’s rich stew of affable and self-effacing Irish humor, seasoned sharply with choice bites of insult. The Cripple of Inishmaan may be the lightest of McDonagh’s dark comedies but it still positions small town compassion cheek-by-jowl with small Tadhg Murphy in Ireland's Druid Theatre Company's The Cripple of Inishmaan, playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Photo by Ros Kavanaghtown cruelty. The mercurial smoothness with which Druid’s cast flashes and withdraws its teeth reveals acting professionalism of the highest order.

Of course, the entire play slyly rips into Robert Flaherty’s 1934 documentary, “Man of Aran”. JohnnyPateenMike’s (Dermot Crowley) news of the arrival of Flaherty’s American production company sends Inishmaan’s poverty-stricken locals scurrying after parts in the film. The young ones, rough and tumble Slippy Helen (Clare Dunne), sweets-loving Bartley (Laurence Kinlan) and Cripple Billy (Tadhg Murphy), especially hope for that big Hollywood break to get them out of their dead end town. Yet, they hardly know what they’re getting themselves into with Flaherty’s film.

Promoted as a portrayal of contemporary life on the islands, “Man of Aran” actually contrived its depiction of “primitive” Irish folk contending against barren, wild nature. Central to Flaherty’s Jack London-esque fantasy is an extremely dangerous-to-shoot shark hunt–a practice abandoned in the 19th century once paraffin for lighting, and then electricity, took over. Flaherty had to send to Claddagh in Galway for the one surviving fisherman who remembered how it was done in the old days. Of his own film, Flaherty himself said, “I should have been shot for what I asked these superb people to do, all for the sake of a keg of porter and five pounds apiece.”

But McDonagh’s comedy makes a virtue of desperation. Even if beggars can’t be choosers, they can still savagely skewer their daily conditions, saving the best bits for each other. By far, JohnnyPateenMike and his bedridden, but contentedly alcoholic, mother, redoubtably played by Nancy E. Carroll, make the funniest frenemies. But Billy’s crush, Helen, gets her licks in, whether smashing eggs against her brother’s head or bluntly telling Billy that his parents killed themselves because of him. “Would you love you if you were you? You barely love you and you are you.” Damn right, it’s terribly cruel—but, then, you have to be there for the delivery to laugh at it.

Beggars can also dream big. If JohnnyPateenMike can obtain his news, by hook or by crook, to trade for provisions at Kate (Ingrid Craigie) and Eileen’s Druid The Cripple of Inishmaan. Liam Carney, Tadhg Murphy in mirror reflection. Photo by Robert Day.(Dearbhla Molloy) general store, then, by hook or by crook, Billy can vie for a seat in BabbyBobby’s (Liam Carney) boat to ferry him, along with Helen and Bartley, to Inishmore where the filming is taking place. Poor cripple boy that he is, his long, outside shot comes through and his unexpected departure tears a hole in small Inishman’s social fabric.

The Cripple of Inishmaan is nothing less than a slalom run of emotional and plot twists and turns. Druid’s cast hugs every curve like Olympians, belying the axiom that it’s the people who know you who can be the most ruthless about your failings and shortcomings—and yet, compassion and caring also emerge from the most unexpected places. McDonagh mocks Flaherty’s condescending fiction about simple and rugged Irish folk, but just as paradoxically celebrates the human power to create fiction in the face of harsh and banal reality. “A man who can’t lie is as dumb as a horse,” my Irish American mother once told me. You’ll find none of those here in this play.

Rating: ★★★★

Tadhg Murphy and Clare Dunne in Druid Theatre's 'The Cripple of Inishmaan'. Photo by Robert Day.


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Review: God of Carnage (Goodman Theatre)


‘God of Carnage’, worthy of worship?


(l to r) Alan (David Pasquesi) tries to comfort his wife Annette (Beth Lacke) as Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher) continues to discuss the argument between their two children. Photo credit Eric Y. Exit

Goodman Theatre presents
God of Carnage
Written by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Rick Snyder
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $22-$90  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage must be a producer’s wet dream—four actors, one set, and a run time less than 90 minutes. Plus, it’s hyper-relevant to upper-middle class urban professionals. The overall vibe is very similar to Reza’s Art, especially in skewering yuppie lifestyles. It all worked out very well for the Goodman, which snagged the Midwest premier after the Broadway debut won a bevy of Tonys and Broadway in Chicago dropped it from its season. With all the encapsulating hype, Reza’s tight little play (translated and Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher) is horrified as her civil get together turns into chaotic mayhem. Photo credit: Eric Y. Exittweaked for American audiences by Christopher Hampton) is sure to get some butts in the Goodman’s seats. And the production lives up to the hoopla, even though no one in the cast has the national name recognition as Jeff Daniels or James Gandolfini.

The idea Reza plays around with in her play is whether adults and children are really that different, especially when it comes to scuffling. One child whacks another in the face with a stick, knocking out a couple of teeth. We see the obligatory meeting of parents sans children. From the beginning, there’s the awkward conflict between parenting techniques. Add to that the fact that maybe no party is innocent. Of course, things quickly spiral out of control.

To direct this darkly hilarious piece, the Goodman selected Rick Snyder, the same who directed a terrific production of Art at Steppenwolf a couple of seasons back. His experience with Reza shows—he allows his cast to push the humor just enough before becoming too ridiculous.

In the end, God of Carnage is an actors’ show. The New York folks got that when they brought in Gandolfini, Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, and Hope Davis. Snyder cast his own set of Chicago stage heavyweights: Mary Beth Fisher, Beth Lacke, David Pasquesi, and Keith Kupferer. The foursome has a great thrust and parry with each other—and this is a play where alliances constantly shift and no one is on any one else’s side for very long (even if they’re married to them).

Pasquesi is Alan, a high-profile corporate lawyer, and is married to Annette (Lacke). She’s bothered by his love affair with his Blackberry. The hosts, Veronica (Fisher) and Michael (Kupferer, in the role originated by Gandolfini), are victim to their own neurosis. Veronica writes books about far-away conflicts and buys books about art; Michael sells doorknobs (among other things) and recently tossed the family hamster out on the street. Things really pick up when the liquor starts flowing, a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Really, you end up feeling sorry for the unseen children most of all.

Unfortunately, it seems like Snyder holds back, which is the show’s biggest shortcoming. There could be more chaos. I was also hoping for more rolling-on-the-floor laughing moments. The Monday night opening came off as a little Monday-ish. Even in the craziest instants, when things are thrown around or thrown up—the play is a bit unsatisfying. The cast needs to be all-in all the time.

God of Carnage succeeds because it nails the savagery that we all understand. Reza posits that there may not be much of a difference between parks infested with roving gangs of kids or Brooklyn living rooms with cups of espresso and imported rum. She digs under the veneer of modern civilization, and even Veronica, modern civilization’s biggest champion, can’t prevent her passions from slipping out. To insult and question how a person raises their kids is asking for strong responses. But Reza, Snyder, and the cast commit fully to this explosive scenario, and we get to enjoy the fireworks.

Rating: ★★★

(l to r) Michael (Keith Kupferer) tries to rationalize the situation while speaking to Alan (David Pasquesi) Annette (Beth Lacke) and Veronica (Mary Beth Fisher). Photo credit: Eric Y. Exit


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