Review: ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ at Curio Theatre Company in Philadelphia

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Telling stories is what the Irish are known for, and Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, directed by Joshua Browns at Curio Theatre Company, does not disappoint. The rumors are as reliable as the people telling them, which makes for fine story-telling and wickedly funny moments.

Cripple’s world, much like that of J.M. Synge’s, is set in rural Ireland and centers around the lives of those who are stuck between the way things are and they way they wish they could be. Not only are the characters in this land of flux, but the time period as well, stuck between the old ways and the emerging modern times.

Pete Danelski (Billy). Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.
Pete Danelski (Billy). Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.

The play is set off the coast of Ireland, on the isolated Aran Islands in 1934. Daily life for the small island of Inishmaan is interrupted by news of film being filmed on a neighboring island. The cast of quirky characters begin to swarm into the local shop owned by Eileen (Trice Baldwin) and Kate (Aetna Gallagher) looking for more stories and spilling some secrets of their own.

Trice Baldwin, plays every single beat with professional perfection and has the audience rolling in their seats with her spot-on comedic timing. This is an actor we wish could be in every show. Aetna Gallagher plays a lovely counterpart to Baldwin and the two of these ladies together are a force on the stage. The Ring Leader of the Rumor Circus is Johnny Pateen Mike, played by the marvelous Paul Kuhn. Kuhn pushes the story forward with wry humor and impeccable timing. Johnny Pateen’s scenes with his mother, Mammy, played by the incomparable Peggy Smith are charmingly disturbing. The doctor of the town, Dr. McSharry (played by Robert Ian Cutler) often plays the middleman to the madness.

While many of the young folk in the town rush at a chance to be in the film, Cripple Billy, or “Just” Billy, played by Peter Danelski, rushes at a chance to break out of boredom, ridicule, and the everyday life of the Island. Peter Danelski tackles the challenging role with ease and finds an incredible balance of nuance, charm, and sadness. His physical work is inspiring to watch as he moves his twisted limbs about the stage. On top of this, Danelski finds a truthful somberness that seduced me into devastation and glee.

Helen (Colleen Hughes) the cursing firecracker, and Bartley (Andrew Carroll), the possibly “touched” brother, divulge to Billy that they convinced BabbyBobby (Steve Carpenter) to take them to the filming. Billy convinces BabbyBobby to take him along to the filming after offering a tragic tale that really sets the rumor mills turning. BabbyBobby was perhaps one of the most complex characters on stage, going from a mysteriously brooding Seaman, to a friend we’d all like to have, to the man of your nightmares.

Trice Baldwin-Browns, Andrew J. Carroll, Colleen Hughes, Aetna Gallagher and Steve Carpenter. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.
Trice Baldwin-Browns, Andrew J. Carroll, Colleen Hughes, Aetna Gallagher and Steve Carpenter. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.

Martin McDonagh’s writing is often as harsh as a slap in the face, but the wit is so quickly and fiercely delivered that you forget you were hit in the first place. The sting is replaced by a laugh and the play continues on to deliver blow after marvelous blow.

At my performance, the fight choreography by John Jezior was hastily executed, and some of the dialects slipped in and out for some of the actors, and appeared to come from different parts of Ireland. I am confident that this has been rectified for the next performance.

Paul Kuhn and Peggy Smith. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.
Paul Kuhn and Peggy Smith. Photo by Rebecca Gudelunas.

The set, designed by Paul Kuhn, rotates to transport the audience into completely different landscapes within seconds. Each room keeps the authenticity of the bleak and often gruesome reality of life in Rural Ireland. The Sound Design by Susan Adelizzi is hypnotizing, especially in the scene with Billy and BabbyBobby, where there are dull sounds of the ocean throughout. The lighting, designed by Robin Stamey, feels like a painting by Norma Wilson, both tranquil and daunting, without giving away any secrets. The use of the single light above Billy’s head was particularly memorable, as it gave a picture right away of a stark and bare place, while the audience was getting a rare lone glimpse to the inside of Billy’s mind. The costumes, designed by Aetna Gallagher, had an authentic feel and helped place us immediately in Rural Ireland.

I admire that Curio Theatre trusts its actors to tell the story. While the set, designed by Paul Kuhn, is nothing short of genius, this story could have been told with two black boxes and had still been just as masterfully crafted.

Curio Theatre Company’s The Cripple of Inishmaan is a delightfully sinful production. The entire ensemble has created a spectacular world that invites everyone to relish in the delicious gossip being spread around Inishmaan. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.

The Cripple of Inishmaan plays through May 21, 2016 at Curio Theatre Company, performing at the Calvary Center- 4740 Baltimore Avenue, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

Note: Peter Danelski is a writer at DCMetroTheaterArts and this did not influence my review.