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The Dartmouth
May 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dartmouth theater department ready to unveil 'Inishmaan'

An Irish melody drifts pleasantly over the dimly-lit stage in the Moore Theater at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, lending atmosphere to the theater department's recreation of a 1934 Irish village for its production of "The Cripple of Inishmaan."

Through flourishes of convincingly accented banter, the dark comedy conveys a bleak yet undeniably humorous account of a town suffering from decaying interpersonal relationships and grappling with a clash between ignorance of the outside world and blind lust after a modern way of life. In this world, the absolute worst insult is "fecker," Adolf Hitler is dismissed for having a funny mustache and the big news, as told by local gossip Johnnypateenmike, concerns a squabble between a goose and a cat.

When Hollywood, in the form of movie director Robert Flaherty and crew, invades the nearby island of Inishmore to film "The Man of Aran," the town of Inishmaan erupts with excitement over the "moving picture fillim." This enthusiasm infects even the play's unlikely protagonist Cripple Billy, an outcast who the townspeople taunt for being disabled and endlessly "off thinking."

Raised by his "funny aunties," Billy's chief pastimes include reading, gazing at cows and secretly admiring his "awful fierce" neighbor Helen. Billy desperately longs to escape the confines of Inishmaan and, despite the ridicule of his acquaintances and an enigmatic letter from Doctor McSharry, Billy's craving for respect and desire to meet the Hollywood film impel him to travel to Inishmore along with Helen, her telescope-obsessed brother Bartley and the boatman Babbybobby.

When Billy is recruited for a screen test and sent to America, his sudden and unexpected success mystifies the people of Inishmaan, forcing them to deeply examine their current philosophy.

Composed in 1996 by Martin McDonagh as the first of a trilogy of plays set on the Aran Islands, "The Cripple of Inishmaan," which the London Times considers a "tough, boisterous, gifted play," powerfully demonstrates the idea that a judgmental society restricts not only those it alienates but also itself.

Billy's quest for validation reflects early-20th century Ireland's seeking approval from without. As the Inishmaan townspeople insecurely and repeatedly declare, "Ireland mustn't be such a bad place if the Yanks want to come to Ireland to do their filming." However, when news of Billy's departure for America reaches the village, his neighbor proclaims that "there's more important things in the world than good parts in Hollywood films [such as] being around your family and your friends," not realizing that perhaps Inishmaan hasn't provided Billy with these meaningful relationships.

As the people of Inishmaan critically evaluate their way of life, they become entangled in the both comic and tragic conflict between their sense of curiosity and dissatisfaction and their reliance upon tradition and pride. Still, as the cast promises, the plot "never becomes too clich or too trite because it's always tongue in cheek, and there's always a punchline."

Daniela Varon '80 of New York returns as guest director of "The Cripple of Inishmaan," having led the theater department's main stage production of "The Illusion" last year. Varon expressed confidence in the production. "I never know how people are going to feel when they leave the theater," she said, "but I hope they'll feel that they've laughed a lot, that they've thought about some things, that they've been moved."

"The Cripple of Inishmaan" features Brett Andrews '09 as Billy Claven, Hannah Chodos '06 and Katie Farley '09 as Billy's aunts, Aaron J. Golas '07 as Johnnypateenmike O'Dougal, Ryan Dieringer '09 as Bartley McCormick, Olivia Gilliat '08 as Helen McCormick, Gordon Gray '05 as Babbybobby Bennett, Tyler Putnam '09 as Doctor McSharry and Krista Saubert, a Tulane '07, as Mammy O'Dougal.

Tickets are available through the Hopkins Center box office to the public for $12 and to Dartmouth students for $3. Performances run from Nov. 10 to Nov. 12 and Nov. 16 to Nov. 18 at 8 p.m., as well as on Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. A post-performance discussion with the director and cast will be held on Nov. 11.