Friday June 23rd 2017

“The Cripple of Inishmaan”

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier is far more than a world class Shakespearean Venue-  They are also an opportunity for theater audiences to see renowned companies from around the world with its “World Stage series”. Currently, on their main stage ( otherwise known as The Courtyard), they are presenting the Druid Theatre Company from Ireland, and their wonderful production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” written by Martin McDonagh, who pulls no punches when depicting characters of Ireland. Directed by Garry Hynes on a stage  that most loyal CST audiences will view differently- no thrust, just a normal proscenium, on a pretty simple set, this is a simple story about the people of this small Island off the west coast of Ireland back in 1934. As I stated earlier, McDonagh pulls no punches as he  tells the tale of these “small town” Irishmen and in particular, “cripple” Billy Claven ( a marvelous and powerful performance by  young Tadhg Murphy, who is able to maintain a twisted foot and limp arm through all the activity of this two and a half hour play) who has been raised by his aunts (  Ingrid Craigie and Dearbhla Molloy play these ladies to perfection, with just the right comic delivery of their lines) after his parents drowned or took their own lives, and he is searching for the true meaning of life in this community, and in particular ,for himself.

In this community, gossip is the key to making their days more enjoyable. In this otherwise boring existence, learning what the others do is a ritual that must be done, with Johnny Pateen Mike ( a strong comic touch played by Dermot Crowley) being the number one gossip. You have all heard the expression to “Sing for one’s supper”- his motto could easily be “gossip for whatever I can get”. The other characters that McDonagh hones in on are a brother and sister, Bartley ( deftly handled by Laurence Kinlan) and Slippy Helen ( the very lanky and adorable Clare Dunne) . Slippy Helen ends up being the love interest of our hero “cripple” Billy. The doctor is handled by Paul Vincent O’Conner, Bobby Bobby, a local sailor ( a powerful performance by Liam Carney) and the incredibly funny  Nancy E. Carrol as Mammy O’Dougal, Johnny Pateen Mike’s mother who he is hoping will soon be his dearly departed mother, without the “dearly”.

When a movie company comes to town searching for locals to act in a movie, they fall in love with “cripple” Billy who now wants to be just Billy, and take him to America for a screen test. Rumor has it that he is ill beyond the crippled leg and arm, and since the town doesn’t hear from them and the gossip mongers “heard” that he only had four months to live and he has been gone longer than that, it is assumed that he has passed away. That being said, he does come back as it turns out the movie company did not need him- and his return reveals that there is more to Billy than meets the eye. He still has not discovered the truths he has been seeking,  and his plan is to do something unexpected, but with a kiss (his first,ever) and a promise from Slippy Helen , we see a more relaxed Billy, who may be on his way to finding what he is looking for despite what may be happening to his body.

This is a story that has deep meaning and while it shows small town people as undereducated, almost simpletons, it also shows that knowing who you are and  your relationship with others is of great importance. The aunts who raised Billy, love him in a way that is close to how a parent feels about a child. The locals  are very real people and gossip in a small town or community does become one of the more important items in conversations. Billy didn’t want to be what he was, didn’t want to be without parents and truly wanted to be someone that would be respected by his fellow townspeople- isn’t that the dream we all dream. This is a lengthy play, but moves so well under the direction of  Hynes, that it feels much shorter. The brogues and lack of microphones do make some of the marvelous dialogue a bit hard to hear, but if you train your ear and focus on the action, you will get it and it is a very funny piece, so be prepared to laugh and have a marveous time.

“Inishmaan” will continue at CST on Navy Pier ( 800 East Grand) will continue for a short time- March 27th with performances:

Thursdays at 7:30,Fridays at 7:30 ,Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.,Sundays at 3 p.m.,Tuesday at 7:30 and Wednesday at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $46-56 and are available at the box office, by phone at  312-595-5600 or Online at

discounted parking is available in the Navy Pier lot, bring your ticket to the theater for validation and of course public transportation can get you there as well.

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