Tuesday, May 13, 2014

REVIEW: The Cripple of Inishmaan

Review of the Wednesday, May 7 matinee performance at the Cort Theatre in New York City.  Starring Daniel Radcliffe and the Michael Grandage Company.  Directed by Michael Grandage.   2 hours, including one intermission. Through July 20.

Grade: A

His name may be above the title, but Daniel Radcliffe isn't the star of The Cripple of Inishmaan. The entire production, including him, is the star, and he is but one of many superlative cogs in an impressive wheel of a Broadway production.  What is happening on the Cort Theatre stage is that rarest of rare things... a complete marriage of word, style, and stage craft, where no one thing sticks out (for the good or bad), but rather every element supports and feeds the others.  When people throw around the term "collaborative", this production, helmed by the great Michael Grandage, that word becomes art.

Daniel Radcliffe
The play, not nearly as extreme as most of Martin McDonagh's other works, is extraordinary in all the ways the others aren't.  His signature dark humor is still present, and the small world of the remote isle of the title comes to vibrant life in unexpected ways.  The opening scene features two spinsters talking about the day and how it will be as they stock their shop shelves with cases of canned peas.  And really, the entire scene is a study in timing, pacing and phrasing, because they are really only saying a half dozen or less actual facts, but saying each in a dozen different ways.  It calls to mind some of the exquisite word play in Shakespearean comedies.  But in the extraordinary hands of Mr. Grandage and in the imagination and skill of the two thoroughly delightful actresses in that scene, Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie, you can feel both the freedom and the angst of living an isolated life, and it is remarkable.

There are similar scenes that highlight the minutiae of such an existence, such as with the younger generation - a bored with life pair of kids who while away their days killing pesky animals for pay (Tony nominee Sarah Greene, a life force and a delight) and obsessing over the lack of assortment of "sweeties" available to him (Conor MacNeill, adorably childlike).  They are a joy to watch, and an almost subversively scary cautionary tale of what could happen if they are left to run amok without a larger world for them to explore.  Parallel lives on the same plane are the elder-statesmen of Inishmaan representing a long ago generation, the devious gossip monger who trades "news stories" for food (Pat Shortt, charismatic and oddly slimy), and his bedridden mother (June Watson, gritty and hilarious)  that he is trying to kill with hard liquor.  It isn't hard to imagine any of the other characters being not to far from the same end. Finally, providing the dramatic tension and signature McDonagh dark side are the broken pair on the island, the boatman who could easily leave his troubled past, but can't seem to leave (the sexy, brooding Padraic Delaney), and the crippled young man who seems least likely to leave and ends up doing just that - Mr. Radcliffe, in a mysteriously overlooked dramatic turn that is astonishing for its detail and heartbreaking sincerity.  It is his best work of his already storied career.  And, no, I did not give away the ending.

Shortt and Watson 
Greene and MacNeill
Delaney and Shortt

This company moves in a seamless unity that makes you forget that they are actors and are really a close-knit community of outcasts.  Grandage has concocted a flawlessly timed production that never drags.  It is sublime to watch, especially on the creative set that utilizes a turntable in the very best way (designed by Christopher Oram) and stunningly lit by Paule Constable.

In a season full of shows that run out of steam, or worse, have none to start with, or shows that a great with some glaring flaws, or even still, shows with a few great things in an otherwise mess of a production, Inishmaan is remarkable for being nearly perfect.  This marks the first Broadway production of The Grandage Company.  I'm sure it won't be the last.

Photos by Hugo Glendinning


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