There isn’t much life for a 16-year-old orphaned cripple like Billy on the little Irish isle of Inishmaan in 1934. The best he can muster is going out to stare at cows and rereading the same old books. But when an American film crew comes to a neighboring isle and looking to cast some locals, even though “it’s a one in a million chance of him getting it, he has to chance it still — else why be alive at all?”
That’s the “action” driving The Cripple of Inishmaan — “action” in scare quotes, because this is not the Martin McDonagh you want if you’re looking for the guy who brought you Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — or even The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which Long Beach Playhouse staged a few years ago. Rather, The Cripple of Inishmaan, a comedy on the surface, is a meditation on striving for something, anything, despite the humbleness of your origins and the limits of your horizons.
Because McDonagh is closer to cute here than the wicked wit that characterizes his best humorist turns (e.g., In Bruges), if you’re going to like The Cripple of Inishmaan for more than its whimsical, unmistakably Irish idiosyncrasy, it’s for the pathos — and this works only if you’ve got a Billy who can bring it. Fortunately, Long Beach Playhouse does in Dylan La Rocque, who is solid throughout but shines in his two crucial monologs.
Even if director Susan Boulanger might have put a bit more emphasis on the conversational and leaned a bit less into the idiosyncrasy, there’s no faulting the rest of the cast’s acting; it’s just that, despite its craftsmanship, as a piece of writing The Cripple of Inishmaan scarcely breaks the surface with its supporting roles.
Where the actors come up short is with their bodily interaction. Of the half-dozen or so moments when characters poke/smack/wrestle each other (there’s no full-on brawling), except for a bit with some eggs, the blows are notably stilted. None of this is central to the play, but each such moment takes us out of the action for a trice. There’s actually a fight choreographer listed in the program, so what happened here is anyone’s guess.
Vis-à-vis the mise en scène, everything is simple and functional — this is not a bells-and-whistles play. If anything merits mention, it’s David Zahacewski’s lighting design. Simple as it is, subtle cues continually modulate the brightness/dimness to exactly the right level for any given moment, always befitting the mood and space.
There’s no doubting that Martin McDonagh has a distinctive voice — and Long Beach Playhouse has no problem communicating it in The Cripple of Inishmaan. But shortcomings in both the writing and the production leave this show short of an ideal McDonagh showcase.
The Cripple Of Inishmann
Location: Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach 90804
Details: Fri.- Sat. 8PM, Sun. 2PM • $14–$24 • THROUGH AUGUST 20
More Info: 562-494-1014, lbplayhouse.org