Ireland mustn’t be such a bad place if Colonial Players is willing to do a production that’s set there. Kicking off their 68th season with Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Cripple of Inishmaan, Colonial Players of Annapolis invites theatergoers into the world of a small island off the west coast of Ireland in 1934. Directed by Dave Carter, this moving piece of darkly humored theatre is quite the engagement, oh aye. A pateen bit o’ news, as it were, with a good bit o’ actin’ involved, certainly nothin’ worth peggin’ eggs at, now, but definitely a piece of culturally rich theatre when it comes to emotionally engaging performances.
With just a pateen bit of scenery conceptualized— and no, we won’t be apologizin’ fer our big words— by Set Designer Terry Averill and complimented just so by Set Decorator Mary Butcher, the little shop on Inishmaan comes to life quite naturally, as does the coastline from where things get launched proper. The true harbingers of imaginative design work, however, are Lighting Designer Shirley Panek and Costume Designer Christina McAlpine. Both Panek and McAlpine understand the way visual clues help the audience hone in on this time and location set apart from a time and location in which they’re used to being. Panek in particular does a right pretty job of creating special effects with her swirling blue moving lights; this makes for a very tranquil seashore right at the edge of the water when Babbybobby is fussing with his boat. The particulars of McAlpine’s costume work isn’t what draws the attention, but rather the earth tones and overall banal quality of the sartorial aesthetic. McAlpine layers in the impoverished verve of the simple life on Inishmaan in the way she costumes the cast and it’s effective in projecting a certain lifestyle onto the characters.
Properties Designer and all round master JoAnn Gidos is most deserving of more than just a pateen bit o’ praise. Gidos’ exacting attention to detail is what authenticates the production visually. Between the canned peas and their perfectly antiquated labels and the authentic-looking dated newspaper— complete with a picture of the man with a funny mustache rising to power in Germany— there seems to be no stone unturned when it comes to unearthing nuances in the properties department. Gidos’ work aligns well with Averill’s set, Panek’s lighting, and McAlpine’s costumes, tying together all of these design elements like proper boat twine.
That there was two pieces of news, first about the show happening, then about all them designers, so the third piece of news must be about Vocal and Dialect Coach Nancy Krebs. Working with the cast to develop that keen Irish sound (and for the most part discovering wild success as the fruit of her labors,) Krebs covers the aural track of the show with the rich lilting rolls of the Irish dialect. Stronger on some performers than others, it is surprising how consistent the accent delivery is across the cast. Krebs ensures that despite the accented affectations of the various characters that the text can still generally be understood and this is critical to be enjoying the show overall, don’t ya know.
Director Dave Carter keeps the play moving on the up and up. With an assist from Sound Designer Michelle Bruno, the scenic changes, though intense move quite quickly, are underscored with lovely Irish instrumental music. Bruno’s selections match Carter’s overall emotional assignation of each of the scenes and serve as a delightful distraction while crossfade and dimly lit furniture shuffling takes its place. Carter demonstrates an impressive knowledge of the unique and unusual rectangular play space, fully exposing the stage’s potential for a strong production wherein everyone can be seen and heard and nothing about the blocking feels awkward or uncertain.
Whether its scene stealin’ Mammy O’Dougle (Lisa KB Rath) or scene-sharing Doctor McSharry (Danny Brooks) everyone finds their footing in this production and gives a rousing pip of a performance. Rath is a comic hoot with her boozin’ and her drinkin’. And when she gets ta’ smugglin’ those drinks right in front of Doctor McSharry, there’s no chance to not be staring at her with all of her hysterical shenanigans and antics. Rath pulls the focus to her, even when she’s only a background character chewing on scenery and adds a much-welcomed peppering of darker comedy to the show. Brooks, as the straight-laced Doctor, is not without his own humors, and though his stage time is limited, his lines are delivered with potent poignancy. Take note of the way his pronunciation falls succinctly in step with that of an Irish county doctor, especially for words like ‘wheeze.’
Babbybobby Bennett (Scott Nichols) is a brusque breath of personality, especially when he gets to walin’ away on Johnnypateenmike (Edd Miller.) Nichols has a few scenes here and there but should be praised for his aptitude when it comes to comedic violence. Miller, as the town run-o’-the-mouth, is quite the flustered sort. Despite a few line hiccups, owing mostly to opening night jitters and all, Miller really packs a comic punch when it comes to the role of this gab-happy gossip. His temper is set off quite easily and there’s just something wildly entertaining about his overall presence on the stage that keeps the audience really enjoying all of his annoying quirks. Quarreling with nearly everyone in the performance, Miller’s Johnnypateenmike will be givin’ ya all the news, if yer patient enough for it.
Not as sweet as yellow mallow’s or Minty-O’s but certainly just as special, Bartley McCormick (Andrew “Drew” Sharpe) is a bit slow on the up-take from time to time. Sharpe delivers this doleful character— herein so miserable and mournful owing to a proper lack of sweeties in the Osbourne’s shop— with a smart sincerity that makes him all the more comical. There’s something just a wee bit off about the lad which Sharpe portrays and that only makes him all the funnier. But at least he don’t go round starin’ at cows like Billy or talkin’ to stones like Kate.
A couple of dotty cows that Kate Osbourne (Carol Cohen) and her sister Eileen (Mary MacLeod) are. Well, at least Cohen’s Kate is dotty, she goes ‘round talkin’ to stones! But not a word, not a word, not a word of that will we be breathin’ here, lest Johnnypateen be talkin’ ‘bout it again. Cohen and MacLeod play off one another exceptionally well, each embracing the other’s eccentricities with glee and using them to augment their own peculiar character quirks. Cohen, who is the more loopy of the two, holds her own and brings a healthy dose of comedy to the scenes she shares with MacLeod, while her scene partner is comedic crime finds a more stalwart approach to the character. MacLeod has a powerful emotional standoff with Billy towards the latter end of the show and it is a testament to her performance abilities.
A right arse is that Helen McCormick (Natasha Joyce) and a few other not so nice words too, but we can’t be printin’ them here. Joyce fabricates a nasty character with willful spirit that’s too cocky for her own good. A right pistol, among other things, Joyce delves into the character with unapologetic gusto and is on the egg-peggin’ attack— physically as well as emotionally— right from the off. With a smug and ferocious disposition, it’s easy to see why even poor cripple Billy (Jack Leitess) would be fancyin’ her and all. Not that Helen would be much toleratin’ him, mind. There’s enough salt in Joyce’s portrayal of this gritty gal to be properly seasoning all of Ireland’s potatoes right through to the start of the next world war, there is.
In the titular role, Jack Leitess is beyond impressive. Between the physical commitment to his crippled state and his emotional expressivity on his face— especially when he gets thumped upside the head— there’s an organic and convivial realness to his performance. Wrenching your heart out with that solo scene in the middle of the first act, Leitess showcases his ability to be both a comedic and dramatic actor. Delivering a blow late in the final bits of the show, Leitess emotionally blindsides the audience and it’s stunning. There’s a pateen bit more o’ good things that could be said, but we’ll be wantin’ to leave some of that to the imagination so as to entice ya to come and see the show.
I have news to be tellin’ ya. Three pieces of news, and me first piece of news is that the show is impressive. Me second piece of news is that you won’t get a better offerin’ this fall season for dark comedy-laced dramas with such strong accents and heartfelt moments than you will with The Cripple of Inishmaan. And me third piece o’ news, if ya wantin’ to be hearin’ it and all…Colonial Players of Annapolis is where you can be getting’ that fine piece of theatre this fall. Now don’t be a thick head and miss out on seein’ it, ya hear?
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission
The Cripple of Inishmaan plays through October 1, 2016 at The Colonial Players of Annapolis— 108 East Street in historic Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 268-7373 or purchase them online.