Cripple of Inishmaan
By Martin McDonagh
March 26 - April 17, 2004
Truth may be stranger than
fiction, but gossip – true or fabricated – is the chief form of entertainment on
the island of Inishmaan.
For Johnnypateenmike, it’s also
a living, as he literally barters "news" for his food. The day he arrives with
the news of a Hollywood director who’s come to film a documentary, the bored
residents go into a tailspin.
The one person who yearns to be
in the film more than anyone is the disabled boy Billy, the title character in
Martin McDonagh's THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN, which is set in 1934 on one of the
remote Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland.
Written by one of the world's
most celebrated young playwrights, this ingeniously funny and sometimes touching
story is a fiction, but takes its inspiration from fact. In the early 1930s,
Hollywood film director Robert Flaherty and his crew spent over two years on the
Aran Islands making his documentary "The Man of Aran" in the same
man-versus-nature format as his earlier success, "Nanook of the North." The film
took the Best Foreign Film prize at the Venice Film Festival, among other
accolades. An extended sequence in the film follows the hunting of a shark. In
the past, sharks were harpooned for their liver, which yielded lamp oil. This
portion of the film is woven into McDonagh's play.
Playwright Martin McDonagh
became a sensation in the late 1990s as the only playwright, outside of William
Shakespeare, to have four plays running concurrently in London. The London and
New York productions of his play THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE garnered every
major theatre award. Likewise, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN received several award
nominations for its Off-Broadway production.
McDonagh uses the factual
filming to stir up the dreams and frustrations of his fictional characters.
Billy, the island’s resident reader and thinker, is a disabled teenager who was
orphaned as a baby and raised by two doting spinsters who smother him with
concern. His days pass with doctor visits, staring at cows and reading books
that no one else cares about. Billy sees the exotic visitors as his chance for
an escape from his humdrum life. Using a forged letter from the island's doctor,
he cons Babbybobby into rowing him, along with two friends, to a nearby island
to audition. While he doesn't land a role in that film, he confounds everyone by
getting tapped for a screen test in Hollywood. The story of Billy's departure
and anticipated return becomes a framework for the playwright to explore the
secrets and lies of the eccentric villagers, and the plot plays out with twists
and turns until the final moments.
The Aran Islands, where most of
the action takes place, mark the westernmost point of the European continent.
The three main islands are Inishmore ("big island" - 9 miles long, where the
young characters go to the filming), Inishmaan ("middle island" - 3.5 miles in
diameter) and Inisheer ("eastern island" - 3 miles in diameter). Life on
Inishmaan is still fairly rugged, and the island is the most isolated of the
three. The population was approximately 375 in the 1930's and has reduced
steadily to approximately 250 today. They are often at the mercy of gale-force
winds and the treacherous Atlantic seas that stifle both air travel and boat
travel there. The landscape is treeless, and since the land itself is limestone,
soil is created from a mixture of seaweed, beach sand, and a little soil scooped
from between rock crevices. Electricity arrived in the late 1970's, and the bank
still flies in once a month from the mainland.
Gaelic is the native language on
Inishmaan, and many residents do not speak English -- or do not want to speak
English! Parents throughout Ireland often send their teenagers to Inishmaan in
the summers for lessons in Gaelic and Irish traditions. Their Aran sweaters are
world renowned, with special designs for different surnames. This custom arose
from the need to identify the bodies of drowned fishermen and sailors. If they
could not be identified otherwise, they would be known from the design knitted
into their sweaters.
Despite the seeming bleakness of
the islands, they have inspired some of the 20th century's finest artists, such
as W.B. Yeats and J. M. Synge.
Carpenter Square Theatre
gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Oklahoma Arts Council and the
National Endowment for the Arts for this production.