News Column

'The Cripple of Inishmaan' styled like 'South Park' to open Nov. 15 in Gorham [Sun Journal (Lewiston, ME)]

November 1, 2013

YellowBrix

USM Theatre will present distinctively Irish dark comedy 'The Cripple of Inishmaan'

GORHAM -- If you're a fan of the comedy of Lisa Lampanelli, Louis CK or "South Park," you won't want to miss the University of Southern Maine Department of Theatre's production of the dark comedy "The Cripple of Inishmaan" being presented this month.

The show includes politically incorrect language, anti-religious comments (what do you expect when the town priests are known for "groping arses?"), exploitation of the marginalized members of society and other fiendishly comic applications that resonate with satire.

"The Cripple of Inishmaan" by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh is set on the tiny island of Inishmaan off the coast of Ireland in the mid 1930s. The arrival of a Hollywood film crew threatens to turn the tight-knit island community's idyllic life upside down and "Cripple Billy" wants to be in the film more than anyone -- if only to escape the tedium of small-town life.

The production will be directed by Thomas Power. Performance dates are Nov. 15-24, at Russell Hall, USM Gorham Campus. Tickets are $8-$15.

"There is no corner of society that is not maligned in this play," said Thomas Power, the show's director and USM professor of theatre, in a recent interview. "The show includes demeaning comments toward women, racial slurs, mistreatment of the handicapped, allusions to priest's sexual abuse and anti-Christian language.

"All the issues that have plagued Ireland as a conservative society are depicted," Power continued. "McDonagh holds a mirror up to his countrymen and women and exposes their charm as well as their deep-seated character flaws."

The cripple of Inishmaan is Billy Claven, a teenager with a malformed hand and foot and widely known as "Cripple Billy," who lives with his two cruel yet compassionate adoptive aunts. His aunts both mock and shelter their charge, whom they have deemed unmarriable, even by "a blind girl or a backward girl," saying "she'd kiss a bald donkey. And she'd still probably draw the line at Billy."

Billy spends most of his days gazing at cows and pining away for his schoolmate Helen, who wants nothing to do with him. When an American film crew arrives on the island, Billy sees his chance to move beyond his small, harsh world, which constantly reminds him that he is "mangled and fecked."

"Billy wants to travel with the film crew back to the U.S. because he is searching to find himself and his place in the world outside of Inishmaan," said Zac Stearn, USM sophomore theatre major, who plays the title role. "Though Billy is a complex character, he is pursuing the same thing that many of us look for in our own lives."

When word spreads around the gossip-starved community that "Cripple Billy" wants to make it in the big time as a famous actor, rumors ripple through the town like a potato thrown in a pot of Irish stew.

What the audience sees is an unforgiving portrait of a society so comically confined and callous that a courageous dream is an offense to its structure.

As Cripple Billy undertakes his audacious journey, hilarious and heartwarming circumstances unfold into unexpected plot twists that will keep audiences guessing until the end.

The play's set design is by Charles Kading, USM professor of theatre and chair of the Department of Theatre. The set will reflect the ways in which the people of Inishmaan are characterized by their rough surroundings, he noted.

"The ruggedness of the landscape flows into the shape of the town," Kading said. "The island and rocks are a part of the people, and the architecture and people are a part of the earth."

Lighting design is by Shannon Zura, USM assistant professor of theatre; sound design is by Tom Campbell, USM senior theatre major, who also plays the role of Doctor McSharry in the show; costume and makeup design is by Joan Mather, USM assistant professor of theatre; and Perry Fertig, USM technical director, will manage his specialty.

McDonagh, a contemporary playwright with working-class Irish parents, was inspired to write the "The Cripple of Inishmaan" by filmmaker Robert Flaherty's 1934 film, "The Man of Aran." The Aran Islands, off the coast of Galway on the western side of Ireland, include Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, and together are home to about 1,400 people. In the early 1930s, Flaherty was a member of a Hollywood film crew that disrupted the lives of the close-knit communities on those small islands to produce the film.

For show dates and times, call 207-780-5151 or visit www.usm.maine.edu/theatre. Special "$5 at 5" Wednesday matinee on Nov. 20 offers all tickets at just $5.

"The Cripple of Inishmaan" includes mature language and subject matter.

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