book (play script) review: The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh

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The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh

published in 1997

★★★

I was already familiar with this play, since I got the chance to see the 2013 production with Daniel Radcliffe at the Noel Coward Theatre in London. But I hadn’t read it until now, and reading the script reaffirmed a lot of the thoughts I had while watching it on stage. I like it, but I don’t love it.

The Cripple of Inishmaan, set in 1934, follows the titular character, a boy named Billy Craven, as he navigates life in his small Irish community while living with a physical deformity that he’s had since birth.  When a film crew arrives to shoot the real-life documentary Man of Aran, Billy sees his chance to escape his small life and travel to America to become a film star.   Inishmaan is an insular and almost claustrophobic look at small town dynamics, and the particular mean-spiritedness that arises toward anyone who challenges the established order.  Humorous though it may be with jokes about staring at cows and a often revisited line about how Ireland can’t be so bad if __ wants to visit, there’s an undeniable darkness that permeates this script, especially in the second half of the play.

I don’t think this is Martin McDonagh’s strongest work. He is the undisputed master of the black comedy, but that careful balance between gravity and levity that he strikes so expertly is I think at its best in The Pillowman and In Bruges. Inishmaan relies too heavily on inane humor to carry it until its conclusion, which is so tonally incompatible with the rest of the play that it’s easy for some of its darker moments to get swallowed up and misconstrued. Maybe that jarring tonal shift is the point, or maybe comedy and tragedy just don’t complement one another here to their full potential.

Like all of McDonagh’s work, Inishmaan is absurd and biting and irreverent and cruel, and the result is something poignant that won’t readily leave your mind after you’re done with it. That said, knowing the magic he’s capable of, this isn’t my favorite. 3.5 stars.

+ link to review on goodreads

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