Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Not Drowning, but Waving

April 25, 2011

Tadhg Murphy and Laurence Kinlan Photo: Craig Schwartz/CTG 2011

Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan is entering its final week of performances at The Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City in an excellent touring production from Ireland’s Druid Theater. Druid has been intimately involved in the genesis of a number of McDonagh’s plays and the experience is evident throughout. The show is directed by Druid’s founder Garry Hynes and from the moment the lights come up, the show sings with the brittle comic energy that marks this playwright’s world. Things veer from sentimental to macabre without warning and layers are peeled away only to reveal new and more intricate puzzles to solve. It's a very funny comedy with a very sharp bite. The "cripple" in the title is one Billy Claven who has been taken in by his two “aunties” Kate and Eileen after the loss of his parents. It's been a hard life and Billy stands out for virtually everyone's ridicule in this rural coastal island town in the early 1930s. Billy makes plans to break out of this small town and head to Hollywood on the wings provided by a visiting film crew on the mainland. Billy is played by Tadhg Murphy, who is an actor on the front lines of many of the most important plays of the last ten years. His association with Druid has landed him plum roles in the works of both McDonagh and Enda Walsh. He’s great here too as are all the members of the ensemble cast including Ingrid Craigie and Dearbhla Molloy as Billy’s “aunties”. McDonagh's characters, like those of Walsh and Conor McPherson, are storytellers at heart, and everyone in this cast masterfully spins stories that are nail-biting in their often surprising and unpredictable endings. There's the mean Slippy Helen played by Clare Dunne and the childish Bartley played by Laurence Kinlan. And then there is the town gossip, JohnnyPateenMike who is bright enough to know his "news" audiences' preference for stories about sheep without ears over those relating to Hitler's rise to power in far off Germany. It’s a furiously funny script that uses as much silence as dialog to win its many laughs.

This is a great show and you should see it, but more than that, it comes at an opportune time for the Kirk Douglas Theater. The KDT is the third of Center Theater Group’s L.A. venues, which also includes the Ahmanson Theater and Mark Taper Forum downtown. CTG completed the theater’s renovation under the guidance of former Artistic Director Gordon Davidson in 2004 and it was initially filled with both new plays and smaller revivals that fit the more intimate space. However, the course of this particular space has been increasingly confused and muddled in recent years. Following the Fall 2008 economic downturn, productions have been fewer, requiring less resources and increasingly reliant on imports of successful works from elsewhere. The heady days of January 2008's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Spring 2009's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo seem like increasingly distant memories in 2011. But The Cripple of Inishmaan suggests a potential new direction.

The Druid production of The Cripple of Inishmaan is a touring production and it’s the kind of important International theater event that has relatively few places to go in L.A. following the implosion of UCLA Live’s International Theater Program in 2010 and the resultant sudden departure of their artistic director David Sefton. Sefton had an amazing ability to pick productions much like Inishmaan and had hosted the Druid company on prior occasions at UCLA. He showed that there is definitely an audience for intriguing and exciting experimental work here in Los Angeles. CTG and the Kirk Douglas Theater have been no strangers to hosting imports and a modicum of edgier material in its early seasons of existence already. And given Druid's current success at KDT, it raises the question, why not do more of this? The KDT has the opportunity to become home to a wide variety of experimental and international theater on a much larger scale than previously and its more intimate stage would appear to be the perfect venue for it. Could this be the site for the next visit from the Volksbühne or Mabou Mines? It should be. In any event, for now we have the excellent Druid players and The Cripple of Inishmaan until May 1. Go see it if you can.


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