[article originally in The Trumpet]
By Hannah Courtney, Staff Writer
The West Liberty University Hilltop Players kicked off their fall season with a sensational, eerie performance of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”; an act that was truly a tough one to follow. However, they’ve pulled it off, going out with a clamoring, comical and emotion-inducing bang in their rendition of Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan.”
The play is set in 1934 and takes place off the Western Coast of Ireland on an island known as Inishmaan. We follow the story of “Cripple” Billy Claven, given a name that speaks for itself as he has a disfigured arm and leg. Billy lives in a community that makes himself, and his condition, the butt of its ongoing joke, thus causing him to feel like he belongs somewhere else. Billy’s ears perk up at JohnnyPateenMike’s first set of exciting news in twenty years: Auditions are being held for a movie to be filmed on Inishmore, a neighboring island. Viewers watch as Billy pursues acting, love, and understanding of what his parents were like prior to their death as well as searching for the real reason behind their death.
If audience members found themselves walking away from the Hilltop Player’s previous performance of “The Crucible” with a bit of a solemn feeling in their hearts, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is the comic relief they’ve been yearning for. This play was nothing short of comical genius. The jokes are deprecating, sarcastic, condescending, morbid, perverted, or in short: something like an episode of Family Guy laced with Irish tradition and dialect. And, let’s face it, this is an Irish sense of humor that easily transcends into the American border and our crude comical tastes. Now, this show isn’t one for those who don’t like their humor served crisped around the edges, but I say burn it around the edges and char mark the center; this is hilarious stuff!
West Liberty University Director of Theater Michael Aulick described “The Cripple of Inishmaan” as a show friendly to college students, ensuring that almost any student, whether they’re a fan of typical theater or not, could enjoy this show. Post having seen it, I couldn’t agree with him more. The room was ablaze with laughter, some people even seemingly having convulsions in their seats as they broke into cackling fits. And it was a very warranted reaction.
The show opened with Eileen Osbourne (Kacie Craig) and Kate Osbourne (Olivia Ullmann) setting an automatic mood for comedy. Craig delivered a string of flawless sarcasm and condescending remarks, which, when paired with the stern look of annoyance on her face, up-turned the lips of every viewer. Ullmann was the perfect complementing act, acting as the antagonist to Eileen Osbourne’s short patience with her repetitive phrases, often times ditzy behavior, and affinity for talking to a stone.
JohnnyPateenMike (Clayton Dunn) just might have been my favorite by a biased default due to the fact that he’s the journalist of the crew, but something tells me Dunn could have won me over either way. As with every performance I’ve seen him in to date, Dunn was absolutely wonderful. JohnnyPateenMike’s button-pushing ways delighted the nerdy little reporter in me. I can’t decide if my funny bone was tickled more by the fact that he encourages his “mammy” to drink herself into oblivion (in a humorous way, I promise) or when he refuses Eileen’s offer of canned peas in exchange for his news sharing and storms out of the house as an attempt of coaxing her to give him the eggs he wants. Only to make a come back for them when he sees she isn’t going to chase after him. And hey, props to the use of an edition of “The Trumpet” for the newspaper prop!
Babbybobby (Jaccob Trifonoff) came off as a serious character at first, so I was pleasantly surprised when he turned out to be equally as hilarious as the others. Between his admitted fright at the thought of sharing a kiss with the bully-esque Helen McCormick and his detailed descriptions of kissing a girl with green teeth only to follow up with “I was drunk,” Babbybobby is another character that sprinkles a zest of laughter over this play. A special hats off to Trifonoff for his perfect rendition of the look of guilt that goes with telling a drunken story. Oh, and also for being concerningly well at beating somebody with a lead pipe.
The McCormick siblings were nothing short of a hoot. Bartley McCormick (David Dudzik) is the truest personification of a pesky younger sibling, a younger sibling with an extreme obsession with telescopes. Dudzik pranced around the stage and poked fellow characters with not only his actions and words, but also a persistent tone and constant interruptions, pulling off the annoying little brother like a pro.
Helen McCormick (Cassie Hackbart) was the shinning star of the play. Helen is crude, blunt, harsh, and often times inconsiderate, yet we can’t help but adore her. She’s the character that speaks what we often times think in our minds, yet think better of voicing. I can’t help but appreciate the blunt honesty about her. Hackbart plays a great helping hand in creating an inevitable affection. She nailed the sarcastic, almost witch-like laughter and breathed life into her dialogue with the contortions of attitude in her face, cocks of her head and hands resting on her hips in a high-and-mighty fashion. And if all of that wasn’t enough, who couldn’t love watching Helen crack eggs on Bartley’s face? No hard feelings, Dudzik!
Aside from the healthy dose of comical relief this play offers, it also comes with plenty of serious moments that tug at the heart-strings and sometimes even punch us right in the gut.
The most riveting is the scene in which we’re led to believe “Cripple” Billy (Mack Kale) is dying of tuberculosis. If I could hand Kale an Emmy award right now, I would. His performance was breathtaking here. As if the monologue he delivers, which is targeted toward Billy’s deceased parents, isn’t emotional enough, he spoke with such a sorrow and passion in his voice that the words practically slapped my tear ducts and threatened to activate them. As his coughing fit increased, so did the desperation in his words, to the point where it seemed he was speaking in coughs with the occasional interruption of words. His body posture broke down in harmony with his voice, gripping for the bed frame, struggling to stand, treating the walk from one side of the bed to the other like an exhaustion; it literally seemed to cripple toward his death (no pun intended). It wasn’t too over-the-top, as some dying scenes can be, yet not too under-exaggerated, just the fine balance in between; essentially, it was real good acting. You die well, Kale.
In essence, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. One moment I found myself feeling hopeful for Billy, the next I’m worried for him, and then I’m laughing. And that’s what’s so beautiful about this play. I walked away feeling alive, feeling full of emotion, feeling something or anything at all. There are plays that we watch for the sake of watching a play and forget about a few days later and then there’s plays that plant an emotion inside of us that can be accessed at any given time. “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is the latter. It was a great play and it was brought to life by a great cast. And I won’t be forgettin’ it.