Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Playwright: Martin McDonaugh

Company:  Miner’s Alley

Venue: Miner’s Alley Playhouse, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden CO, 80401.

Running Time:  2 hours, 40 minutes (includes15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Sunday, March 8, 2015.  

Martin McDonaugh is perhaps the best Irish playwright (see notes below for additional information) working today.  His works include The Beauty Queen of Leenane as well as The Cripple of Inishmaan.  Both scripts are focused on the working poor in western Ireland, and both tell compelling, authentic stories that rarely match up with my Irish stereotypes.  His characters are not leprechauns or red haired alcoholics.  They are real people who face huge challenges.  The Cripple of Inishmaan (hereafter The Cripple) is a “dark comedy.”  For fans of the genre, I can assure you that you’ll be treated to large helpings of both “dark” and “comedy” watching The Cripple.

The “cripple” in the title is Billy Claven, a teen aged boy who needs a shillelagh (walking stick) to get around because he has little or no use of one of his legs.  Billy is the village outcast, doomed and bored because of his disability.  The play takes place in the community of Inishmaan, on the Aran Islands at the mouth of Galway Bay in 1934.  It’s an isolated area, and at the time of the play, many residents toiled at subsistence level trades. Billy (Cody Schuyler) learns from Johnnypateenmik (Mark Collins) that an American film (or “fillum”) crew is coming to a neighboring island to shoot a fillum.  Billy sees an opportunity to escape his dreary life on Inishmaan Island, and plans to get to Inishmoore and land a role in the fillum.

Billy Craven (Cody Schuyler).
Cody Schuyler has a very physical role; he has to stumble, stagger, and drag his leg throughout the entire show.  Every step must look like it is a struggle.  Shuyler never falters; if he’s onstage, he’s Cripple Billy, deformed, discouraged, and in some measure of despair.  Schyler not only displays the toils of Cripple Billy, but also his hopes and dreams.  Shuyler brings out Billy’s soul when he tricks Babbybobby into taking him to Inishmoore, and when he approaches Helen (Meredith Young) for a “date.”  It’s a tender moment shattered by the reality of being Cripple Billy, and Schuyler nails it.

Probably the most challenging part of Shyler’s role is his death scenes.  Both of them.  He dies, or apparently dies, twice in McDonaugh’s script.  Schuyler is magnificent and convincing in both of his near death adventures.  

Shuyler’s experience, as described in the program, includes several roles, but none at Miner’s Alley.   That program does contain an explanation of  how he got his foot in the door:  “You may recognize him from behind the bar or box office during previous shows.”  If you’re an aspiring actor, there may be an opening at Miner’s Alley for a bartender.  I don’t think you’ll see Cody Shuyler pouring drinks there any more.  He aimed higher, and he won’t be going back to the bar.  There’s no way they can keep him off the stage after his masterful Cripple Billy.

Mark Collins had two assignments here:  first as dialect coach as second as
Johnnypateenmik (Mark Collins), Doctor (Loren Cogswell).
Johnnypateenmik.  He excelled at both.  The Irish brogues from the entire cast were so good it takes a few minutes into the first act to start understanding them.  Collins gets credit for making the show sound authentic.

Collins also gets abundant credit for being the local gossip extraordinaire, Johnnypateenmik.  He calls it “news,” but mostly it’s not.  It’s tidbits he exchanges for food and other necessities.  He delivers the “news” about the film crew, and takes his pay in eggs.  He’s a bit of a parasite, and Collins knows it.  In a remote outpost, news travels slowly.  Johnnypateenmik fills the news gap, but that does not make him especially popular with his customers.  Collins keeps Johnnypateenmik lovable, if somewhat annoying.

Cody Schuyler (Billy) and Meredith Young (Helen).
Helen (Meredith Young) is the trash talking, tough, and slutty lass who works for the egg delivery person.  Young puts on an acting clinic, playing her role to the hilt but never going over the top.  She is fearless, and has an extended food/egg related feud with her brother Bartley (Brandon Palmer).  Palmer’s simple minded but sincere Bartley takes Helen’s food related wrath on his head (and anywhere else it may wind up).  Palmer bravely absorbs everything Young dishes out to him, no matter how scrambled it may be.  His performance is worthy of 5 omelettes, on a scale of 1-5 omelettes. 

The entire cast is memorable.  Sasha Fisher (Eileen) and Linda Suttle (Kate) both play Billy the Cripple’s spinster aunts, and they are wonderful at it.  I couldn’t neglect to mention their performances, as I would have risked their sincere admonition:  “Not a word.  Not a word.”  

Sam Gilstrap (Babbybobby) is a “soft character” according to Billy the Cripple, which is ironic, considering Babbybobby tries to murder him.  Gilstrap has us all convinced that he’s got a good heart, and the turn of events is truly shocking.  Carla Kaiser Kotrc (Mammy) is Johnnypateenmik’s hard drinking mother, and she can exchange insults with him whether drunk or sober.  Mammy is one tough character that I would not mess with lightly.  Loren Cogswell (Doctor) is the only educated character in the play.  Cogswell brings some decorum and dignity to an otherwise chaotic story.

Jonathan Scott-McKean’s set design is superb, bringing 3 functioning sets onto the stage:  a
The Cripple of Inishmaan set.
beach, a bedroom, and a kitchen/dining room.  There is little need for elaborate scene changes, as nearly everything is already in place.  Nicole Harrison’s costumes are authentically ragged, especially Mammy’s outfits. She has dressed the cast in consistently appealing rural colors and styles. But it is Cripple Billy’s costume that gives him the illusion of paralysis that truly distinguishes Harrison’s costumes.

Len Matheo's direction here is tight and focused.  The pacing is quick; there's not a lost moment on stage.  No detail is too small; Matheo has carefully created an authentic Irish experience that Mcdonough would be proud of.

The bottom line is that The Cripple at Miner’s Alley is a magnificent production, one that speaks a universal truth about the human condition:  we are all crippled in some respect.  How we treat others in a vulnerable position is a true measure of our humanity, or our lack thereof.  

Good theater can remind us of our collective humanity, whether the setting is in Denver, Detroit, New York, or rural Ireland.  We all have stories, and when we tell them, we discover our similarities are more striking than our differences.  

The Cripple is one of those shows.  You might doubt that a show about rural Ireland is relevant to citizens of Golden, Lakewood, or Denver.  You would be wrong.  We can all relate to a boy with dreams turning into a man with too many challenges to count.  Most importantly, we can all relate to how our imperfections sometimes result in bullying, mistreatment and even assaults.

Theater is art, but unlike a painting or a sculpture, it is fleeting.  It’s here for a brief time, and then gone forever.  Miner’s Alley has put on a magnificent production that will not be soon forgotten by those who were lucky enough to see it.


Playwright Martin McDonough was born in England to Irish parents.  His family visited County Galway frequently, and relocated to western Ireland when he was 16.  McDonaugh is considered an Irish writer, although he is somewhat controversial in Ireland.  The question is essentially whether he’s “Irish enough.”

This show contains adult language, albeit in Irish slang.  Preteens may find it to difficult to follow the Irish brogues.  Recommended for teens and up.

There is ample parking behind the theater, as well as on surrounding streets.

PHOTO CREDITSMiner’s Alley Playhouse.

TICKETS HERE:  Sales are closed.

This show closed on March 8, 2015.

Pre or Post Show Dining Suggestion:

We stopped at the Grappa Mediterranean Bistro at 1027 Washington Street in Golden.  It’s about a 3 minute walk to/from the theater.  Service was excellent, food was tasty, and the house margarita is very good.  


Director:  Len Matheo

Scenic Designer/Projection Designer:  Jonathan Scott-McKean

Lighting Designer:  Shannon McKinney

Sound Designer:  Len Matheo

Costume Designer:  Nicole M. Harrison

Dialect Coach:  Mark Collins

Stage Manager:  Bryanna Scott


Eileen:  Sasha Fisher

Kate:  Linda Suttle

Johnnypateenmik:  Mark Collins

Billy Claven:  Cody Schuyler

Bartley:  Brandon Palmer

Helen:  Meredith Young

Babbybobby:  Sam Gilstrap

Mammy:  Carla Kaiser Kotrc

Doctor:  Loren Cogswell

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