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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

The Cripple of InishmaanAntaeus Theatre Company
Review by Terry Morgan

Also see Bill's review of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Ian Littleworth and Emily Goss
Photo by Geoffrey Wade Photography
The characters in Martin McDonagh's plays, by and large, aren't nice. They scald each other with hot oil, torture victims who are bound and hanging upside-down from ropes, sever animal ears, but most of all, they are casually abusive. The effects of lifelong cruelty from family and small-town communities form the stories of most of McDonagh's works, and his black comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan fits neatly into this oeuvre. The current production of this 1996 work by Antaeus Theatre Company is enjoyable and benefits from several excellent performances, although a few of the performances aren't quite as effective. (Antaeus partner-casts this production. This is a review of the "Yalla-Mallows" cast.)

In 1934 Ireland, on the Aran Island of Inishmaan, the filming of a documentary on a neighboring island is the biggest thing that's happened in years. Local gossip "newsman" Johnnypateenmike (Stephen Caffrey)—used to delivering lesser fare, such as a report of a goose biting a cat's tail—is happily informing storekeeper sisters Kate (Rhonda Aldrich) and Eileen (Julia Fletcher) when their foster son Billy (Ian Littleworth) shows up and hears the news. Taunted his whole life for being a "cripple," Billy desperately wants to go to the filming and maybe change his life. When he finds that the young woman he has a hopeless crush on, Helen (Emily Goss), and her brother Bartley (Sebastian Fernandez) are being rowed to the other island by Babbybobby (John Bobek), he determines that he must go as well.

Caffrey is marvelous in a detailed and energetic comedic performance as Johnnypateenmike, perhaps the best thing I've seen him do in a couple of decades of great acting. Aldrich and Fletcher do terrific, funny work as Kate and Eileen, so comfortable in their rapport that the idea of them as sisters works wonderfully well. Bobek is strong as the softhearted but violent Babbybobby, and Fernandez is deftly amusing as the "sweetie"-obsessed Bartley. Littleworth is fine as Billy, but his performance doesn't quite convey the history of Billy's suffering and seems more polite than desperate. Goss, so impressive in last year's Forever Bound, is clearly a very talented actress, but she doesn't seem to completely connect with the gleefully bullying Helen, although this may change as the run continues.

Director Steven Robman gets some inspired performances from his cast, but the pacing lags a bit at times and the Irish accents are somewhat variable. McDonagh's characterizations are still sharp, however, and the brilliant viciousness of the dialogue still shines, as in a moment when one of the "aunts" is trying to say something nice: "Billy has a sweet face, if you ignore the rest of him."

The Cripple of Inishmaan is a dark little gem of a play, and if this production isn't perfect, it's still a nasty, mean-spirited delight.

The Cripple of Inishmaan, through March 11, 2019, at Antaeus Theatre Company, Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale CA. Tickets and info are available at www.Antaeus.org.

Playwright: Martin McDonagh
Director: Steven Robman
Lighting and Projection Co-Designers: Kaitlyn Pietras & Jason H. Thompson
Scenic Designer, John Iacovelli
Sound Designer, Jeff Gardner
Costume Designer, Garry Lennon.

Cast:
Kate: Rhonda Aldrich
Eileen: Julia Fletcher
Johnnypateenmike: Stephen Caffrey
Billy: Ian Littleworth
Bartley: Sebastian Fernandez
Helen: Emily Goss
Babbybobby: John Bobek
Doctor McSharry: John Allee
Mammy: Anne Gee Byrd




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