Hurry, hurry, hurry to the Atlantic Theater, where Martin McDonagh’s work of tragicomic genius, The Cripple of Inishmaan, is easily the funniest play now in New York. Actually, side-splitting, rib-tickling, knee-slapping is more like it — not to mention heartbreaking and soul-crushing. And yes, while this script is the same one that was seen on the Public Theatre’s stage in 1998, this far superior production is definitely what McDonagh intended.
The heroes behind the work’s miraculous resurrection are Garry Hynes — the first woman ever awarded a Tony for Best Director (for her work on McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane) — and a cast imported intact from Hynes’ Galway-based Druid company production. Every one of them, under Hynes’ tutelage, gets across McDonagh’s idiosyncratic view of an Ireland wrapped in a thickening veil of stereotyping, mired in low spirits and impoverished incentive.
Set in McDonagh’s weird dream of the 1934 Aran islands, The Cripple of Inishmaan looks with a keen eye on Cripple Billy (Aaron Monaghan in an unusually demanding physical performance), who’s been raised after his parents’ not-accidental drowning by his “aunties” Eileen (Dearbhla Molloy) and Kate (Marie Mullen), a woman who talks to stones when she’s troubled. She’s plenty troubled when Cripple Billy, hearing that documentary-maker Robert Flaherty is shooting The Man of Aran just across the water, decides he’ll land a part, and then promptly disappears in Hollywood.
Although McDonagh’s labile fable turns around Billy and his eccentric aunties in their understocked grocery store, several other characters are as warped in their own way and try each other’s patience with non-sequitur small-talk and squabbles. There’s JohnnyPateenMike (David Pearse), who hopes his mammy (Patricia O’Connell) will die of drink and scores freebie food by carrying questionable news through the town; Slippy Helen (Kerry Condon), who prides herself on kissing every local man but Billy; her brother Bartley (Laurence Kinlan), a boy who covets telescopes and is partial to eating “sweeties”; and boat owner Babby Bobby (Andrew Connolly), who has a heart of gold or stone or both.
As the actors forge an infallible ensemble on Francis O’Connor’s overcast-looking set (and wearing her beautifully faded costumes), they swap lines that eventually add up to McDonagh’s recognizable but alternate universe — one where expectation and despair constantly dance an unpredictable jig, and where every cloud has a silver lining and every silver lining has a cloud.