The Cripple of Inishmaan: In brief
Not content with post–Harry Potter film work, Daniel Radcliffe keeps racking up stage cred. His latest adventure is a revival of Martin McDonagh's savage village comedy, in which the title character inspires equal parts affection and loathing among the locals. Michael Grandage directs the London transfer.
The Cripple of Inishmaan: Theater review by David Cote
Profiles of playwright Martin McDonagh report how, in 1994, the young Anglo-Irish scribe holed up in his childhood home and cranked out the drafts of seven plays in an incredible nine months. After seeing Michael Grandage’s lush but underwhelming revival of The Cripple of Inishmaan, I believe it. Despite a slick veneer and satirical brio, the piece comes across as a rush job by a beginner with a huge chip on his shoulder. Although the undeniably clever and talented McDonagh became a theatrical rock star in the 1990s, his bloated parody of Irish folk drama is repetitious, inert and shallow. A sketch lampooning J.M. Synge or Seán O’Casey would be amusing for 15 minutes; but two hours of flat, one-joke characters and sneering antiromanticism get dull pretty fast.
Of course, people aren’t flocking to the Cort Theatre to see the play—they want to ogle Daniel Radcliffe. They’ve also probably never heard of The Playboy of the Western World, so all those bog-stupid villagers might seem novel and amusing. One old maid converses with stones; another gorges on her store’s candy inventory; a town lass throws eggs at anyone she doesn’t like; her idiot brother talks incessantly of telescopes. Then there’s Billy (Radcliffe), whom everyone calls Cripple Billy on account of his twisted arm and rigid leg. Per McDonagh’s heavy-handed irony, kind and thoughtful Billy is the most recognizably human of these grotesques. When a Hollywood crew sets up on the nearby island of Inishmore to cast a film (the actual 1934 documentary Man of Aran), Billy sees a chance to escape his suffocating provincial prison.
Radcliffe gives a passionate and scrupulous performance in a role that’s an emotional and ergonomic challenge. But besides providing the opportunity to demonstrate physical prowess, Billy is not that interesting a part. He is an object of amused scorn (or maternal condescension) for other characters, but McDonagh doesn’t flesh the fellow out particularly well. Billy ends up a passive cipher, his pursuit of Hollywood fame a MacGuffin. Back in 2008, a Druid Theatre revival—expertly staged by Garry Hynes at the Atlantic Theater Company—papered over the work’s callowness.
In fact, six years ago, I actually liked the play. But supersizing it for Broadway (even with Christopher Oram’s handsome sets and costumes), Grandage does the brittle comedy no favors. McDonagh just doesn’t have much to say, only romantic conventions to cynically flip. Think the good-hearted widower fisherman, Babbybobby (Pádraic Delaney), will forgive Billy for deceiving him? Just you wait! When saucy Helen (Sarah Greene) agrees to go on a date with Billy, is it a happy ending? Not if Billy keeps coughing like that! And so on. You’d have to be as thick as McDonagh’s cardboard Irish not to spot such easy subversion from miles away.—Theater review by David Cote
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