Stereotypes, as we know, are so politically incorrect. Far be it from me, then, to suggest that the villagers on the remote Irish isle of Inishmaan all seem to be running a quart low on the milk of human kindness.
But how often do you see an audience for a film (or "fill-um," in the local brogue) about fishermen root for the sharks instead? Or a wee young slip of a lass—and a gifted murderer of assorted barnyard animals—complain that, as far as she's concerned, Pontius Pilate got a raw deal in the New Testament?
Still, Ireland can't be all that bad a place—not, that is, as long as it turns out comedies as rewarding as Martin McDonagh's gleefully bleak opus from 1996, The Cripple of Inishmaan. The town of the title is a community where woes and misfortunes are cultivated, and no silver lining survives the relentless search for even the faintest wisps of gray. If schadenfreude is the chief form of entertainment on this benighted island of busybodies, McDonagh quickly convinces us that's mainly because it's the most abundant source.
Under Tom Marriott's direction, Kate and Eileen (the rewarding Julie Oliver and Marcia Edmundson) could have made the Olympic team in worrying as the proprietors of the island's meager grocery store and adoptive aunts to the title character. A smug Johnnypateenmike (played nonchalantly by Kevin Silva) has found a unique way to monetize being the town gossip. An amiable but slow-witted Bartley (Andrew Crabtree), Kate and Eileen's most frequent customer, invariably requests every form of candy this store will never have. Meanwhile, Bartley's martial, plain-spoken sister, Helen (Samantha Rahn), expresses her tenderest sentiments in a vocabulary of noogies, Indian burns and airborne eggs.
Small wonder then that the title character, Billy (a reflective Ishai Buchbinder), wants out. A misfit physically, intellectually and emotionally among such grim company, he seizes on a chance for a life beyond this archipelago when a foreign film crew arrives on a neighboring island to make the real-life 1934 epic Man of Aran.
Though there were laughs aplenty to go with the sudden, inescapable twists present in any McDonagh tale, several things kept distracting us on opening night. Miyuki Su's too-primitive set design seemingly rendered Kate and Eileen's store from an episode of The Flintstones. Eric Swenson's Bobby was under-defined as the village tough guy, while Rahn, whose work as a child actor INDY critics have followed in recent years, may well be too young, in life and professional development, for the major supporting role of Helen. These elements may change as this show develops.
Composer Curtis Eller's banjo-based haiku provided a tasteful counterpoint to the various scenes and blackouts, and Jenny Wales' dialects gave the production a similarly musical lift. Book a trip to Inishmaan, if you can. And then be glad that you don't have to live there.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Comedy in shades of dark and light."