Theater & Arts

Donald Munro: Two daring plays open ('Inishmaan’)

“The Cripple of Inishmaan” isn’t a musical, but to say it isn’t musical is carrying it a little too far.

If you’ve ever listened to a thick Irish brogue, you know it has a cadence and magnetism all its own.

In Martin McDonagh’s achingly dark comedy, set on an impoverished Irish island in the 1930s, that musical quality is a contrast to the daily drudgery of its inhabitants. Without much to do there — we’re talking about watching cows as an actual pastime — folks get mighty excited when they learn that a Hollywood film shooting on a nearby island is looking for actors.

One of those most interested is Billy Craven, known as “Cripple Billy” (played by Billy Jack Anderson), a teen-age orphan who is the butt of many jokes.

If you’re thinking that this play — which first opened on Broadway in 1998 and was revived last year with Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Billy — isn’t the most politically correct offering on the stage, you’d be right. From the bluntness of the title to the saltiness of the language, it’s pretty daring for audiences at Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre.

Anderson has put in many hours working on two important aspects of his character: the accent and Billy’s physical disability, which remains vague in the script.

With nary a trace of Irish blood, how did he approach the accent?

“Just watching a lot of videos and doing a lot of research,” he says. “The last show I did, ‘The 39 Steps,’ had a lot of different accents, and I had to do a Scottish accent for that. Just twisting that one around learning the cadence of the Irish, it was pretty easy.”

For the disability, he and director Denise Graziani talked about the character suffering from a general impairment on the left side of his body affecting both his arm — which remains in a curled position — and a pronounced limp.

Anderson grew up with an impaired grandfather who had suffered partial paralysis after an accident working under a car.

“Growing up with that, it did help me seeing the challenges my grandfather had just on a daily basis walking and getting through life,” he says.

Graziani calls the play “very funny and very dark.” The cast abounds in quirky characters, including the two doting women who run a hapless general store and serve as Billy’s foster parents. Also rich in comic potential are a brother-sister combo, close to Billy’s age, who are the closest things he has to friends.

Even though the residents of Inishmaan lead much different lives than those of the typical theatergoer today, the play’s richly drawn characters make them seem universal.

“Life is so difficult, but in many ways it’s not difficult,” Graziani says. “We all adapt. We’re all human.”

For Anderson, you get the sense that he feels for his character. He’s a little sad that people in such a matter-of-fact way treat Billy differently.

“I think he is a kid wanting to find who he is. What, besides everything about him on the outside, is special about him? Just like any other kid, he wants to fit in.”

The play’s ultimate message: “Accept people for who they are,” he says. “Everyone has their flaws. There are flaws in every single character in this show.”

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