Plays set in Ireland typically have eccentric characters caught up in garrulous plots, and Martin McDonoughs The Cripple of Inishmaan is no exception. Like its kin, the play challenges actors and directors to create characters beyond stereotypes and accents both authentic and understandable. Deep Dish Theaters production succeeds only intermittently in both regards, but the scripts rambunctious charm and teasing twists come through enough to make a diverting evening.
On the bleak island of Inishmaan in 1934, the locals are all agog at the arrival of an American film company, there to make a documentary about island life. Billy, an orphaned 17-year-old with a withered arm and malformed leg, sees the chance to be in the film as a way out of his dreary existence. Despite concern and derision from the townspeople, Billy manages to become involved with the company.
From that point, McDonough upends everything hes set up, in a clever if overly contrived series of surprises, tying up what seem at first to be endless, boring repetitions of each characters petty concerns. Theres a lot of physical comedy (what happens with some eggs brings on gasps) and a little unexpected violence, facets of the juggling act that McDonough boldly attempts in this dark comedy.
Director Tom Marriott makes good use of Miyuki Sus abstract set of stone formations, giving the often static scenes welcome movement. At Fridays opening, the pacing was tentative and uneven. There also were problems with the Irish accents, some so thick that crucial revelations were lost, others unvaryingly singsong so that punch lines missed their mark.
When characters were strongly drawn, as with Julie Oliver and Marcia Edmundson as Billys old-maid guardians or Andrew Crabtree as dimwitted Bartley and Eric Swenson as moody Babbybobby, the show hummed along. John Honeycutts exasperated Doctor McSharry was a funny cameo, while Adair Wiess amused as elderly, tippling Mammy, despite no accent at all. On the other hand, Kevin Silvas busybody Johnnypateenmike was awkward and unfocused, Samantha Rahns feisty Helen was mostly on one note, and Ishai Buchbinders Billy was too meek and mild.
The production is not without laughs and insights but it doesnt fully grapple with the scripts daunting demands.