Daniel Radcliffe in a scene from The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo credit: Johan Persson)
If you add up all the billions of intakes of dollars for all the motion pictures starring the galaxy of movie stars putting their bare, nekkid faces before Broadway audiences this season, the sum tops by far the starstruck lists of recent years. And of all these powerhouses, the face on the cover of the Cort Theatre Playbill says it all: Daniel Radcliffe. Here he is, back in New York once again to, please, once again convey to everyone who’s willing for the conveyance that he is not Harry Potter. Or maybe, not just Harry Potter. And so he has gone about as far as he can go: he is, in this very play, Cripple Billy, the Cripple of Inishmaan. And he’s wonderful.
Inishmaan, at least in 1934, was not the place you’d want to be, judging from the acid-dipped pen of playwright Martin McDonagh. Radcliffe stars with the Michael Grandage Company production, imported intact from London’s West End as the ugly, unkempt, crippled nephew of Eileen and Kate Osbourne, (Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie), the sixtyish sisters who own the local provisions shop where almost no one comes to buy food stuffs such as eggs – if the egg man delivers them – or cans of peas because that is all there are on the shelves behind the grimy counter, hundreds of cans of peas. Even more limited are the topics of conversation. If you can call it conversation.
So it’s no wonder that Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt) has created a business for himself: he delivers the news. In person. Anything he’s heard, snooped, eavesdropped on, even read. And in exchange, he gets a can of peas. Or some eggs. And any tidbit of news he can wangle. Otherwise, just looking at cows is all that’s left.
Well, it so happens that there’s a fine bit of news, not directly on Inishmaan but near enough. The American Irishman filmmaker, Robert Joseph Flaherty, was there in the Aran Islands come all the way from Hollywood for scouting out the possibilities of making his next film. And poor, twisted, aimless Billy had an aim. He was going to be in that film. Of course, he tells no one except Babbybobby (Pádraic Delaney) who has a boat, a fine boat, but is hardly likely to waste space in it with the likes of Cripplebilly. But Billy’s begging skills are up to the task and Babbybobby goes soft. Cripplebilly disappears. He’s gone to Hollywood.
Daniel Radcliffe, Gillian Hanna, Ingrid Craigie and Pat Shortt in a scene from The Cripple of Inishmaan
(Photo credit: Johan Persson)
Life goes on as usual in Inishmaan, vapid, boring, petty, mean, dull, stupid. Helen McCormick (Sarah Greene) bullies, tortures, torments her kid brother, Bartley (Conor MacNeill) as usual; the aunts are put out, shocked, annoyed, puzzled, doltish as usual; Johnnypateenmike peddles his news as usual; his mother, Mammy (June Watson) bedridden, at death’s door, as usual, ladles the booze down her throat as usual; the Doctor (Gary Lilburn) tries to get her to stop as usual; and Billy is given up for dead, no one having heard from him in months. But we know – playwright McDonagh shows us – Billy, in a shabby room in Hollywood, coughing up blood – it’s the TB – out of his head in misery, longing for home.
The fillum, Man of Aran is being shown on a strung-up bedsheet to the locals of Inishmaan who are so busy with the important matter of their own lives they hardly pay any attention to the masterpiece before them, until Billy shows up, returned home with no welcoming fanfare. He didn’t get in the fillum. In fact, once Babbybooy realizes he’s been conned by Billy for a boat ride, he belabors Billy with his truncheon. The Doctor repairs the damage as best he can. But the real damage is that no one, including Billy, sees any future for Billy. And Billy, finally screwing up his courage, asks the beauteous, messy Helen if she’d go walking out with him. It’s her laughter that drives him to suicide. He is going to kill himself by loading himself down with those cans of peas and walking into the sea.
You’re laughing and you’re crying when that deus ex machina, playwright McDonagh, steps in again. Well, it’s his play, isn’t it. He’s tortured us enough so far with his rancidly ludicrous portrait of the stupidities of the Irish, fit only for subjects of scornful laughter and doesn’t he get his laughs, every one, dripping with bile. Director Michael Grandage sucks the bitter marrow out of McDonagh’s play, pinches every member of his cast to wincing glory and plans as wickedly grim a comedy of Irish innate malevolence and gormlessness as ever McDonagh has painted in all his plays, carrying him to fame and riches. Everyone loves it. Well, maybe not everyone. Christopher Oram’s settings and costumes are disturbingly fine. Alex Baranowski’s sound works wonders with thick brogues. Campbell Young bewigs mercilessly as needed. And Daniel Radcliffe is miserably fine. Who could ask for anything more? The Irish? They’ll get over it.
The Cripple of Inishmaan (through July 20, 2014)
Michael Grandage Company
Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.crippleofinishmann.com
Running time: two hours and 25 minutes including one intermission