Santa Clara University’s dark comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan, playing at the Louis B. Mayer Theatre through Nov. 10, provokes laughter at the very moment it also pricks one’s conscience. It touches the heart as well.
The drama unfolds in 1934 on Inishmaan, the smallest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland. The tale was written in a form of Irish English by Martin McDonagh, the British writer, producer and director of the 2017 multi-award-winning movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
The Cripple of Inishmaan, the first of a trilogy, is the tale of a crippled and orphaned young Irishman pining for the love of Helen, a fierce lass who swears a blue streak and proudly claims to have been groped by the local priest. She is the kind of lass who breaks eggs on heads.
“It’s a dark comedy about a guy who one would think would never fulfill a dream, [who is] given a chance to fulfill it,” said McDonagh at the play’s Broadway opening in 2014. It first opened in 1996 in London, where McDonagh was born to Irish parents.
The setting is a home shop, where Cripple Billy lives with his two aunties. Locals come to buy canned peas and exchange lackluster gossip, embellished by Johnnypateenmike, who “tells if a horse farts.”
“Don’t call me a cripple,” says Cripple Billy, played by SCU senior William Webb, in Act I.
“Isn’t your name Billy and aren’t you a cripple?” says Johnnypateenmike, getting one of many guilty laughs from the audience.
The suffix “–een” means “little” in Irish English, making six-foot-four-inch SCU senior Austin Lindsay as Johnnypateenmike all the funnier in the role.
It is Johnnypateenmike who delivers the possibly life-changing news that “Ireland mustn’t be such a bad place if the Yanks want to come to Ireland to do their film.”
Cripple Billy is among those who intend to make the boat trip to another island to audition for the Hollywood film — if he can convince Babbybobby, the local boatman, to take a cripple.
The Actors and Set
The dress rehearsal audience on Nov. 1 appreciated the slice of Ireland that was created by the set, the Irish background music and the nine SCU student actors with Irish brogues.
“The drab set, dull costumes and under-powering lighting not only underscore the drab lives of the characters, but in contrast, serve to make the characters that much more colorful in the clothes/space they inhabit,” said Pamela Davoren from Los Gatos.
“The actors really came alive in their characters,” said Dale Bracey from Los Gatos. “I had aunts in Missouri who were like the two aunts.”
“We focus on the naturalism and realism of the script and work to bring a sense of honesty and integrity to these characters….[to] reveal the depths of the humor and poignancy of the story,” said director Kimberly Mohne Hill, SCU Department of Theatre and Dance chair.
Red-haired SCU senior Kylie Joerger, who studied in Ireland last year, plays feisty Helen.
“Helen really is the character of a lifetime for me,” said Joerger. “Her character forced me to get connected with my forceful, strong and independent side.”
SCU senior Joshua Kendall plays Helen’s brother, Bartley.
“I try to bring more to a character who can be written off as just dim witted and try to get at why he is the way he is,” said Kendall. “I identify with how Bartley just wants to take joy in the simple things in life.”
“The play has made me question some of my interactions with those around me,” continued Kendall. “Have I let normalizing cruel behavior justify things I should not have? What do other people have going on that I am simply not aware of?”
For tickets to The Cripple of Inishmaan, visit www.scupresents.org. Look for the San Francisco-based, Consul General of Ireland Robert O’Driscoll and his wife, Caoimhe, in the audience on Nov. 9.
“The gift of theater [is that] it exercises our imagination and our empathy at the same time,” said Hill. “What we do with that experience after we leave the theater is entirely up to us.”