‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ at 1st Stage

Mounting Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan as their springtime offering is a perfect way for 1st Stage to shake off the chill of winter and welcome in the warmer weather. Directed by Steven Carpenter, this quirky, dark, and heartwarming tale of a young crippled boy’s dreams makes for a moving night at the theatre and brings a touch of the Irish atmosphere right into the cockles of your heart while simultaneously tickling your funny bone in a blackened backhanded manner.

(from left to right) Robert Grimm, John Stange, Megan Graves, Mark Lee Adams, and Rebecca Lenehan. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
(from left to right) Robert Grimm, John Stange, Megan Graves, Mark Lee Adams, and Rebecca Lenehan. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Crafting one authentic looking set piece is a feat in and of itself; but crafting three unique exceptional set pieces on top of a rotating table is nothing short of astonishing. Set Designer JD Madsen succeeds at this astonishing task; creating three similar and yet unique locations upon a rotating surface, all of which have inviting notions of littoral Ireland imbued in their aesthetic. The weathered interior of both the feed and supply shop and the church hall create a sense of the doldrums while also symbolically representing the troubles those walls have witnessed. Madsen’s design for the shore-edge scene, overlaid with the soundscape of gulls and gentle waves (comprised by Sound Designer Neil McFadden) completes the illusion of being on the west coast of an Irish Isle.

McFadden immediately draws the audience into the spirit of when and where the play takes place. Jaunty Irish jigs echo through the house before the show begins and during several of the scene changes. It’s McFadden’s subtler work; the aforementioned seashore soundscape and the harsh juxtaposition of Hollywood’s background noise that makes his work outstanding. Knowing how to balance these underscored moments so that they linger in the outskirts of the ear just enough to be present without detracting from the actors’ words is a fine art that McFadden has mastered in this production.

Being able to execute the sounds of Ireland in dialect can be tricky but with Vocal Coach Jane Margulies Kalbfeld, the cast is beyond successful in their creation of an Irish sound. Slight variations are even noted between the nattering village gossip and the rugged stoic boatman. Kalbfeld’s work on the whole is greatly appreciated and gives the play a feeling of true authenticity. It goes beyond just mimicking the sound of an Irish dialect, going so far as to focus on the way certain phrases are delivered, how the inflection translates in conversation and other minutia that truly make the actors sound genuine.

Director Steven Carpenter discovers a swinging balance between the darker humors and the heavier dramatic moments in this production. Rather than blending them so that they exist on the same plane, Carpenter allows them to flourish each in their own moment, swooping back and forth from one to the other. There are moments of laughter to be had and moments of deep emotional contemplation that reach out and strike the audience unexpectedly; particularly after a brief lull coming off something funny.

The show exists as a moving dramatic work but it is not without its humors. One-liners find exceptional delivery in Dr. McSharry’s (Matt Dewberry) repertoire. Dewberry is a slight cameo in the production, appearing only in two scenes, but his impeccable comic timing lands one of the funniest lines in the show in regards to Jim Finnegan’s daughter. Having equally brief an appearance but doubling her comic energy tenfold is Mammy (Rebecca Lenehan). With very few lines of dialogue, Lenehan relies on her physical approach to the barmy old salt of a character to draw comic relief to the audience. Her dithering and bickering about with Johnnypateenmike (Mark Lee Adams) creates some fancifully wild moments of hilarity.

Adams, as the scandal-mongering “news” man, is a comic riot. With the strongest and most notable of accents in the production, Adams brings a hearty delivery to every speech he breaks, even if they are long-winded and of ill-import. There is a relatable nuisance in the character that Adams allows to surge through his presence, making the audience love to laugh at him while also wishing he’d simply bugger off. It’s his self-important blather that makes him a true uplifting force in this production.

Opposing opposite of the loquacious sod is Babby Bobby (John Stange). With a reticent personality that would make a stone wall seem friendly, Stange gives the character a surprisingly depth, particularly in the scene shared with Billy. For as many speeches rattled off by Johnny is as many emotional silences are created by Stange’s character. His surly approach to life is not entirely emotionless, but merely guarded; a good foil for the town gossip.

Worry never came more profoundly embodied than in the likes of Auntie Kate (Susan Holliday) and Auntie Eileen (Carol Randolph.) Both Holliday and Randolph have slightly eccentric mannerisms about them, while managing to seem perfectly normal (of course until Holliday’s character starts talking to rocks.) The pair play well off one another with Holliday being the more neurotic of the two and Randolph having a slightly strong comic delivery, particularly when it comes to interacting with the thickheaded Bartley (Robert Grimm). Randolph is given more of an opportunity to be emotionally expressive in her scenes with Billy toward the end of the show and does so in a most convincing fashion.

Grimm is an exceptional talent in this production. Every moment of his dull, albeit amusing, existence in the show is laughable. Coming from a place of genuine truth, Grimm’s performance as the bubble-headed dolt is that much more hysterical for the audience to enjoy. He’s mastered not only the verbal comedic aspects of his character but carries his lanky physicality in such a way that it enhances the overall idiosyncratic and funny nature of his portrayal. Grimm gives a well-rounded performance; spastically responding to Helen and her eggs, as well as being fully petrified of her.

A spitfire cannon, Helen (Megan Graves) ought not to be trifled with, especially when it comes to her eggs! Graves embodies the bratty snippy snit with an air of perfection wrapped up in her pistol of a mouth. A ferocious hellcat with a subtly articulated soft spot for Billy, Graves’ character is the most vibrant in the production; her performance practically leaping from the stage and into the laps of those watching. A literal terror, Graves is a sensational performer and nails this role on the head.

(from left to right) Josh Adams, Mark Lee Adams and Carol Randolph. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
(from left to right) Josh Adams, Mark Lee Adams and Carol Randolph. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

In the title role, Josh Adams gives a phenomenal performance as young cripple Billy. Adams presents a dedicated and unwavering commitment to his deformed physical portrayal, never once sliding out of it. His attitude crashes in waves through his dialogue making for a riveting and compelling emotional performance that grips the audience by the heartstrings and doesn’t let go. His monologue on the rock is stunning; an emotional turning point in the production where each word and wheeze becomes an enthralling entity all its own.

1st stage’s production of The Cripple of Inishmore is truly a remarkable production. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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The Cripple of Inishmaan plays through April 20, 2014 at 1st Stage— 1524 Spring Hill Road in McLean, Virginia. For tickets call the box office at (703) 854-1856 or purchase them online.


Steven Carpenter on Directing ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’ at 1st Stage.


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