Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - April 20, 2014

The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Michael Grandage. Set and costume design by Christopher Oram. Lighting design by Paule Constable. Composer and sound design by by Alex Baranowski. Hair designer by Campbell Young. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, with Ingrid Craigie, Pádraic Delaney, Sarah Greene, Gillian Hanna, Gary Lilburn, Conor MacNeill, Pat Shortt, June Watson, Helen Cespedes, Leslie Lyles, Aidan Redmond, Josh Salt.
Theatre: Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes, with one intermission
Schedule: Tues 7 pm, Wed 2 pm, Wed 8 pm, Th 7 pm, Fri 8 pm, Sat 2 pm, Sat 8 pm, Sun 3 pm
Audience : The Cripple of Inishmaan is suitable for all ages (some adult language). Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Tickets: Telecharge

Daniel Radcliffe, Ingrid Craigie, Gillian Hanna, and Pat Shortt.
Photo by Johan Persson

Can you ever believe your ears? In the Michael Grandage Company production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, which just opened at the Cort following a London run last year, the answer would seem to be no—though not for the reason you may think. True, Martin McDonagh's play preaches and practices the craft of weaving together fact and gossip to the point of indistinguishability. But Grandage's first-rate revival asks you to go what you may think is a step too far: to accept that Daniel Radcliffe is a young crippled boy whose future, like his appearance, is disfigured beyond redemption.

Yes, that Daniel Radcliffe, who as an adolescent attained worldwide heartthrob status as star of the Harry Potter movies and as an adult has been working feverishly, and so far successfully, to maintain it on screen as well as stage. (His Broadway outings alone have counted credible turns in Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.) We're really expected to accept that this actor is a junior-league Elephant Man set atwist and left adrift on a tiny Irish island that seems intent on only stifling the dreams of its inhabitants?

We are and we do, not least because Radcliffe is proving once again that he's no slouch. Forgoing his natural boyish charm, and adopting a physicality that throws particular light on his character Billy's deformities (a wrist curved inward at his shoulder, one leg that lurches and another that doesn't bend at all), he depicts in every second a young man at odds with the world. And though Billy is at an age where staring at girls should be his preferred pastime—and he has settled on one, the sharp-edged Helen McCormick—Radcliffe shows how and why Billy's outward and inward entanglements make him much more comfortable staring at cows.

Daniel Radcliffe
Photo by Johan Persson

Better still, Radcliffe projects the fine-carved charisma necessary to answer one of the play's central hovering questions. As the plot concerns the arrival on Inishmaan of Robert Flaherty, who's making the documentary Man of Aran, you're usually left to wonder exactly why Billy so becomes the focus of attention that he's chosen to go to America and take an official screen test when the more outwardly talented and attractive folks of the island are not. Radcliffe has enough of that “special something” to convince you that Billy convinced Flaherty and his cohorts that there was quite a bit more to him than initially met the eye.

That statement is very much true of everyone on Inishmaan, and McDonagh has carefully charted them and their personalities so that they're just as layered. The brusque Helen (Sarah Greene) hides—quite well—a passionate nature and a sympathetic side. Billy's caretaking aunts, Eileen and Kate (Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie), tint their affection for their nephew with nervous tics that involve speaking to stones or binge-eating candy. Gossipmonger Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt) presents the picture of a self-contented story spinner, if one who's also trying to persuade his mother (a snappy June Watson) to drink herself to death. Even the well-meaning and helpful Babbybobby (Pádraic Delaney) harbors a secret dark side.

No one, in other words, may be taken at face value, and the interaction of the various levels of personalities—who they are, who they aren't, and who they pretend to be—is what gives The Cripple of Inishmaan its considerable emotional heft. But McDonagh, who's perhaps best known for his more brutal works (The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman in the theatre; Six Shooter, In Bruges, and Seven Psychopaths on film), has not left out the levity, which in the cunning repetition of words, phrases, and gags both elicits lots of genuine laughter and reminds of the safest, most elemental way there is to endure a dreary, soul-crushing existence.

Director Grandage and his designers (Christopher Oram on sets and costumes, Paule Constable on lights, Alex Baranowski on sound) highlight no shortage of the desolation of island life, and suggest the weight—of history, of community, of family—that presses down on everyone and threatens to squelch their ambitions. Even more than with the fine 2008 Atlantic Theater Company–Druid Theater revival (I did not see the original 1998 production), you're aware of the escape that Flaherty represents for these people—and how well they'll survive if (or, more likely, when) his golden ticket doesn't cash out quite the way they plan.

A seamless ensemble furthers this goal, with Hanna and Craigie hilariously lost in their own shadowy reverie and unaware of the witty contradictions they represent in their own lives; Shortt an engaging, blustery presence you wouldn't mind delivering your own morning news reports; Delaney ideally balanced in a potentially volatile role; and Greene appealingly feisty in a part that swings, often haphazardly, between nurturing and nasty. The other performers, who include Gary Lilburn as the local doctor and Conor MacNeill as Helen's excitable brother, are just as good.

But Billy remains at the heart of it all, and it's a position Radcliffe is well equipped to occupy. Though nimble with the role's comedy, he's even stronger projecting the pathos that defines the boy best. Whether Billy is fretting over the parents he never knew to despairing of the life he's facing to feeling—not without reason—he'll die in an American hotel room that resembles a prison cell, Radcliffe paints a complete picture of someone who's locked within an existence he didn't create for himself and sees no doors to a better place.

For him and everyone else in The Cripple of Inishmaan, of course, things are not always as hopeless as they seem. McDonagh ensures that the journey of Billy and the rest is one of recognizing where true ugliness is and how it may be overcome. As Radcliffe and his cast mates strive toward that goal, they and Grandage create, not accidentally, one of the handsomest shows in town.

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