Dramaworks will conclude its season with Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan. Six years ago, Dramaworks’ last performance at its former intimate stage on Banyan Street was McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a play that rips your heart out. I reviewed it as “grimy and gritty…[with] dark humor that shrouds the entire play.”
But have no such fear seeing The Cripple of Inishmaan as it is essentially a touching comedy, beautifully crafted by a master playwright. Like Beauty Queen, this play unfolds in a remote setting in Ireland, where people cobble a life out of unforgiving isolation and hardship -- after all, this is Irish Theatre.
Dreams are in short supply on the desolate island of Inishmaan, particularly for the sensitive, physically challenged Billy Claven. So when word arrives that an American filmmaker is coming to the neighboring island of Inishmore to make a motion picture (this part is based on fact when the director Robert J. Flaherty went to the Aran Islands in 1931 to make a documentary about the harsh conditions there), Billy yearns for a part in the movie, hoping for a trip to Hollywood and to escape the cruelty and bleakness that engulf him.
Dramaworks’ usual brilliant casting has called on a mix of newcomers to play alongside several of the incredibly talented South Florida veterans who have graced the Dramaworks stage many times before. I caught up with some of them and the Director during Dramaworks’ Press Day.
PBD’s production is directed by J. Barry Lewis who has stunningly brought to life scores of South Florida productions. He commented “This play is truly built around character identity, unique characters caught in a harsh world, some wanting to leave. Each character has very specific human needs and the action flows from that.” He characterizes it as a “dramatic comedy” and thinks one of the minor but particularly oddball characters, Bartley, has a key line which goes to the heart of the play’s theme: “It never hurts to be too kind.” He added that in PBD’s casting “you create a kind of family with each production.”
And what a cast! Among the newcomers is the lead Adam Petherbridge as Billy Claven. Besides the obvious challenges of playing a young man with such severe physical disabilities, he noted the difficulties of dealing with his changing relationship to the other characters. “J. Barry has been great in pointing out a path,” he said. Not so coincidentally, this is his favorite play. “I read it in college and have always wanted to do the role ever since. When I saw it listed for casting in NYC about a year ago I said to my agent, let’s go after it!” Petherbridge sees this as “true Irish theatre, particularly in its use of rhythmic language. “
Another NYC based actor making her PBD debut is Adelind Horan who plays the feisty lass, Helen. She shares a remarkable happenstance with Petherbridge as she has always wanted to play this role since she saw the play when she was 10 years old! Her parents are both actors and her father once played the role of Babbybobby in the play. So both actors are fulfilling a dream.
Horan is also the author of a one person play focused on the hardships in the Appalachian region, Cry of the Mountain. She has been to the Aran Islands and sees “many similarities between the hardships of the people of Appalachia and the people of remote West Ireland.” Although her character has a hard exterior, “I think Helen likes Billy all along and all the characters essentially have a soft core.”
Billy’s “pretend aunties” are played by Laura Turnbull (Kate) and Elizabeth Dimon (Eileen), two of the finest actors in South Florida, double threats as they are both dramatic and musical performers as well. And they are also best friends and although they have played opposite one another as friends and even as lovers in past plays, this is the first time they are playing sisters, which describes how they actually feel about one another. One can only imagine how this deep respect for each other will surface in this production.
Turnbull mentioned “there are dialogue challenges in playing Kate but I love doing an authentic west coast Irish accent (although liberties are taken to make everything clear to the SF audience).” “I see Kate as a kind woman with a lot to worry about and especially needing to be kind to Billy.”
Elizabeth Dimon said she feels “that while her character, Eileen, is very tender toward Billy, she will correct him when she feels he is wrong. All the characters have a good heart, but don’t cross them up or make them feel like a fool. Although bleakness is a given, I love the well written characters and the dialect.” And she echoed Turnbull’s sentiments about returning again to do a play at Dramaworks, to work with J. Barry and especially the cast. “It’s like family, a sense of comfort; you know the actors and you know the process.”
Others in the cast or crew of this PBD production are Colin McPhillamy as the “town crier” Johnnypateenmike O’Dougal, Wesley Slade (PBD debut) as Bartley, Helen’s younger brother, Jim Ballard as Babbybobby, Dennis Creaghan as Doctor McSharry, and Harriet Oser as Mammy O’Dougal. Scenic design is by Victor Becker, costume design is by Franne Lee (PBD debut), lighting design is by Paul Black, and sound design is by Steve Shapiro.
The Cripple of Inishmaan opens at Palm Beach Dramaworks on May 19 and continues through June 4, with specially priced previews on May 17 and 18. The performance schedule includes evening performances Wednesday through Saturday at 8PM, and Sundays at 7PM. Matinee performances are on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2PM. Post-performance discussions follow Wednesday matinee and Sunday evening performances. Individual tickets are $66, with specially priced preview tickets at $46 and Opening Night tickets at $81. Student tickets are available for $10; tickets for educators are half price with proper ID (other restrictions apply). Group rates for 20 or more and discounted season subscriptions are also available.
The Don & Ann Brown Theatre is located in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach, at 201 Clematis Street. For ticket information contact the box office at (561) 514-4042, or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.