Antaeus' The Cripple of Inishmaan Harks Back to the Renaissance

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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Since Martin McDonagh arrived on the London stage, his brand of “comedy and cruelty” has helped explain ourselves to ourselves. His style harks back to Irish Literary Theatre’s John Millington Synge and his most famous play, Playboy of the Western World.

In setting this play on a remote island in 1934, McDonagh distances us enough that we can laugh at the foibles of an isolated population, while decrying the violence that constitutes Inishmaan’s daily life. If we might be aghast by some of the behaviors of such isolated people, McDonagh provides us with a good dose of humor to compensate. To fit almost any occasion, my favorite running joke at any news of strangers visiting Ireland: “This can’t be a very bad place if those people want to come to Ireland.”

Bear with me as I provide a short introduction to McDonagh’s off-center cast of characters, since, as always, Antaeus doubles its actors. Aunties Kate (Rhonda Aldrich/Kitty Swink) and Aileen (Julia Fletcher/Mary-Pat Green) run the neighborhood grocery store, aided by their ward, “Crippled” Billy (Matthew Grondin/Ian Littleworth).

Billy yearns for the self-protective Helen (Emily Goss/Abby White), who, in turn, bullies her brother, Barley (Sebastian Fernandez/Joey Millin). Their lives are thrown into turmoil when the town gossip, Johnny Patteen Mike (Stephen Caffrey/JD Cullum) brings news of a visiting movie company from Hollywood. When Helen decides she wants to be discovered, Billy contrives to bribe his way onto the boat trip helmed by BabbyBobby (John Bobek/Seamus Dever).  When Billy goes to Hollywood, his journey raises jealousy and envy in the town until Billy returns to set straight all the misconceptions.

To director Steve Robman’s credit, the performers work seamlessly across both casts as the picture of Irish country-life heaves into focus. Antaeus designer John Iacovelli conceived the country store, while lighting and projection designers Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H.Thompson make up for the shallow stage by pin-pointing other locations. Garry Lennon’s costumes in subtle shades of green and brown connect the folks with their environment with subliminal deftness.

The Cripple of Inishmaan will continue with alternating casts on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and Mondays at 8:00 p.m. through March 11, 2019 at Antaeus Theatre, 110 E. Broadway, in Glendale, CA, 91205.  Tickets are $35. For reservations phone (818) 506-1983 or online at www.antaeus.org.