‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ at Scena Theatre

Scena Theatre’s comedy through the lens of small-town folk in a small Aran Islands community named Inishmaan, off the coast of Ireland. The year is 1934, and we catch a glimpse of all the archetypal small-town characters: the town busybody, the melancholy tough guy, the aging spinsters, the wayward young woman, and of course, the young man itching to leave town who, in this case, happens to be disabled. The play, written by Martin McDonough and first performed in 1996, recently enjoyed a successful revival on Broadway in 2014 with Daniel Radcliffe as the eponymous cripple. McDonough has enjoyed his own revival of sorts in the DC area, with The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore both produced at area theaters earlier this year.

Eileen (Nanna Ingvarsson) and Billy (Josh Adams). Photo by Jae Yi Photography.
Eileen (Nanna Ingvarsson) and Billy (Josh Adams). Photo by Jae Yi Photography.

The night begins with a band playing merry Irish dances before the play, setting the mood for what aims to be a truly Irish experience. The set, designed by Michael Stepowany, lends to the provincial atmosphere: most of the action takes place in a neighborhood store, drawn in muted broad blues and browns with thick Impressionist strokes, and rows of identical canned goods. It’s the kind of place where the only thing that moves on is time, and the dry humorous repartee of the two women who mind the store, beautifully played by Nanna Ingvarsson and Jennifer Mendenhall, continues while they age in place.

The black humor in Inishmaan is best realized by Matt Dougherty, playing Johnnypateenmike, a “news” man who passes along gossip of family feuds, animal cruelty, and neighborhood secrets and complains of his Mammy (Mary Suib). Megan Dominy (Helen), and Kevin Collins (Bartley), together provide additional comic relief as a painfully cruel town flirt and her dim-witted brother.

The play centers on Billy – “Cripple Billy” to everyone else but him – played by Josh Adams, an orphaned young man crippled at birth. Not many of us may be orphaned or dealing with congenital disorders, but Adams plays Billy with a wistful pain that should be familiar to anyone: anyone with a family that pokes at those certain vulnerable spots, or old friends who remind us of embarrassing mistakes, or love interests that teasingly make fun of just the right thing that makes us wince in recognition. Billy longs for something more, somewhere where he is not the cripple without parents, without love; he hears that a Hollywood film crew has come to Inishmaan and makes his move with the help of Babbybobby (Christian Sullivan).

Johnnypateenmike (Matt Dougherty) and Mammy (Mary Suib). Photo by: Jae Yi Photography.
Johnnypateenmike (Matt Dougherty) and Mammy (Mary Suib).
Photo by: Jae Yi Photography.

Billy’s afflictions may be obvious because they are external; yet as we get to know the people in the town we see, as Billy does, that everyone is “crippled” in their own way – and, somehow, that is OK. We get on, and we love each other anyway.

Scena’s Artistic Director Robert McNamara has created an excellent production filled with many unique touches to immerse the audience in this small Irish town.

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission

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The Cripple of Inishmaan plays through November 29, 2015 by SCENA Theatre performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993, or purchase them online.

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