The best way I can think to laud the new Good Company Players production of the “Cripple of Inishmaan,” a touching and achingly funny tale by Martin McDonagh about a motley group of characters living on an isolated Irish island in the early 1930s, is to single out the joys of its sturdy ensemble cast:
• There’s Johnnypateenmike (Gordon Moore), a consummate gossip who will stop at nothing for the privilege of passing along the latest bit of “news.” Moore, long familiar to Second Space audiences, has a piercing ability to project a brusque smarminess; I swear his eyeballs can sneer by themselves.
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• Kate (a sturdy Kate McKnight), is a gem of good-heartedness and befuddled charm, fretting and worrying over Billy, the “Cripple” of the title, whom she helped raise after his parents drowned. She wants him to be happy (and stay close by forever).
• Likewise, Eileen (Karan Johnson, in one of my favorite roles I’ve seen her perform), who with Kate runs the island’s general store. The love she and Kate lavish upon Billy is unleashed with the kind of dark Irish intensity that makes it seem even more endearing.
• There’s Helen (a viciously funny Emily Campbell), a young woman who works for the local egg man, whose unfiltered tongue and over-the-top nonsentimentality make her one tough lady. (She gets some of the best laughs in the production.)
• Her brother, Bartley, brought to life by a maniacally grinning and deftly played Alex Vaux, is terrified of his sister. Together they casually mock Billy’s deformities, but not especially out of mean-spiritedness. It’s just always been that way.
• Babbybobby (Terry Lewis in a sweetly no-nonsense performance), is the man with the boat — and he’s the one who takes Cripple Billy to an audition for a major Hollywood film, much to the consternation of his adopted aunts.
• Dr. McSharry (a solid Jeff Dinmore) is the gruff but kindly doctor. And Patricia Hoffman, as Johnnypateenmike’s crabby and belchy Mammy, is hilarious as an elderly woman who keeps on living even as her deranged son tries to kill her with booze. (Their caustic verbal volleys would put any insult-laden American sitcom to shame.)
• Finally, there is the glue that holds this charming production together: Billy Anderson’s portrayal of the leading character of Billy. Director Denise Graziani coaxes a gently resilient performance from Anderson that captures his character’s struggle to find acceptance within his own tight little world. I found his Billy compelling and human, a strong combination.
The production has a cozy, minimalist look (thanks to David Pierce’s sets, Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s period costumes and Evan Commins’ lights) and a snappy pace that allows the laugh lines to shine. Yet it doesn’t spare the heartache. Perhaps one result of a bunch of people living together on a small island is a brutal honesty that strips away the niceties and leaves true feelings bare. (Or maybe it’s just an Irish thing.)
Two small criticisms: As funny as Moore is, his Irish accent gets a little mushy at high speeds. And there’s something dark about Lewis’ character that doesn’t get foreshadowed properly. When I saw the play before, I remember actually being a little scared of Babbybobby and nervous about his volatility. The introduction we get to him in the first act of this production doesn’t adequately achieve that.
Still, I wholeheartedly recommend the show. “The Cripple of Inishmaan” knows that the best comedy can be found where you least expect it.