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Cracking Up

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Unfortunately, the Phoenix Theatre's run of The Cripple of Inishmaanwill close shortly before the raucous festivity of St. Patrick's day is upon us, but never fear: A little extra Irish never hurt anyone. You can consider Cripple a pre-St. Patty's appetizer that may go down even smoother than a pint of green beer.

Martin McDonagh's Tony Award-nominated play, The Cripple of Inishmaan, is set on the quiet, isolated Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland in 1934. When a Hollywood film crew arrives on the neighboring isle of Inishmore to document life on the islands, the locals are stirred into excitement at the thought of stardom. But no one is more eager to exchange life on Inishmaan for a life of celebrity than Billy Claven, the eponymous "cripple" of the village. The plot that slowly unravels from this catalyst is accompanied by generous doses of laughter and surprising pockets of warmth.

Ryan O'Shea wields eggs and wit in her role in The Cripple of Inishmaan. - COURTESY OF PHOENIX THEATRE
  • Courtesy of Phoenix Theatre
  • Ryan O'Shea wields eggs and wit in her role in The Cripple of Inishmaan.

Playwright and screenwriter McDonagh was born in London to Irish parents and drew upon his heritage to write a trilogy of plays set on the Aran Islands, exploring Irish culture and history.

"I hope someday they'll be regarded as true Irish stories," McDonagh says. "I don't think they are at this minute. It will take a long time for the baggage of me being a Londoner to be in the past."

Even though McDonagh says he is "constantly bored" with what he's written before and feels he could "do it 20 times better" were he to rewrite Cripple, no one else seems to be complaining. Actor Ryan O'Shea is already relishing her upcoming role in the production.

"I play Helen, who is sort of a love interest for Billy, and she's a bit of a hellion," says O'Shea, who is also serving as the cast's dialect coach. "I like to think of her as a lady ahead of her time, a bit of a feminist, but she just maybe doesn't act on it in the most productive way. When men are rude to her, she will throw eggs at them. Or if they try to cop a feel, she will throw eggs at them. If they sass her, she will throw eggs at them. She works for the egg man, so it's her job, but she's terrible at it because she breaks so many eggs."

In fact, according to the Phoenix Theatre, a dozen eggs will be broken on stage during the course of each performance of The Cripple of Inishmaan (much to the dismay of the crew).

Helen is only one of the many quirky, irreverent characters that populate Cripple, which the Phoenix Theatre describes as "a cross-eyed look at Irishness" that is guaranteed to keep the humor flying even more frequently than the eggs.

O'Shea says, "A lot of people want to go to the theater to escape and be entertained. And you will feel like you're just being entertained the whole time because it's so funny, but especially at the end. I think you're going to be surprised and touched and think, 'Hey I wasn't expecting that.' I think you're really just going to have a good time."

The Cripple of Inishmaanopens at the Phoenix Theatre this Friday and runs until March 1. The cast includes Nathan Robbins as Billy, as well as Ryan O'Shea, Rob Johansen, Deb Sargent and Gayle Steigerwald, among others.

The Phoenix production of Cripple immediately follows the show's successful run on Broadway last season, starring Daniel Radcliffe, which O'Shea says "brings that theater relevance to our city, which is always important, I think."

"It's definitely both for people who are maybe being introduced to theater for the first time, or regulars who want to see something that would be performed in New York or the West End," she continues. "Truthfully, it's just such a relatable, approachable play, we feel so confident that anybody seeing it would enjoy themselves."

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