Born in South London of Irish parents, playwright Martin McDonagh only visited Ireland during summer vacations. That disconnect has given his plays about his ancestral home a needed critical distance, but it has also resulted in an overtly hostile, oddly British edge, with all that the rancorous history between the two countries entails.
That history is evident in this play about a disabled teenager at the bottom of a small Irish island's pecking order. After Cripple Billy hears that a movie director is shooting a film on a nearby island, the audience discovers his hopes for a better life in Hollywood—and all that's left is to watch as the playwright sets him up and then lets the cast of characters gleefully stamp out the boy's naiveté.
Sad to say, under Keith Fowler's direction, there's barely a real person in sight. Only Karen Jean Olds and Andrea Caban as Billy's long-suffering aunts and Jason Vande Brake as a forlorn widower are believable—the rest of the cast is either too old to play teenagers or they're playing variations of the Lucky Charms leprechaun.
In a theater world still under the thrall of Neil Simon and Mel Brooks, McDonagh's sadism can be bracing, but the various casting missteps in this poorly paced production don't even allow us the opportunity to enjoy that brutality.
The Cripple of Inishmaan at Winifred Smith Hall, UC Irvine, 300 Arts, Irvine, (949) 824-2787. Thurs.-Fri., April 27-28, 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m. $9-$17.
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