Trip to the old sod full of dark comedy – Press Telegram

By Sean McMullen

Correspondent

The Irish are known for many things — optimism isn’t one of them. Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy “The Cripple of Innishmann” makes the most of the bleak landscape of 1930s Ireland to great comic effect.

The current production on the Studio Theater stage at the Long Beach Playhouse satisfies this Irishman’s need for deprecating humor. Director Susan Boulanger has understood these comically daft and endearing characters and steers her cast through McDonagh’s words with a light touch.

The action revolves around a Hollywood production company coming to a nearby island to make a movie. This brings much interest from the locals amidst their dreamy island lives. It is especially of interest to ‘Cripple’ Billy, who wants nothing more than to see the filming.

All the characters here are carefully crafted, first by McDonagh, then by each actor. These folks hit all the beats of the comedy and when the play takes a darker turn, they don’t lean in too far so as to break the delicate tone of the piece.

Dylan La Rocque as ‘Cripple’ Billy had to find that spot most frequently, and succeeded like a pro. The sweet earnestness he imbues Billy with becomes the foundation of this comically demeaning world.

Mary Price Moore and Carmen Tunis as the “aunts” Kate and Eileen who raised Billy have found a delightful tone to the banter in their dialogue. They truly create a relationship that feels as if they have been bickering for years.

Karl Schott as Johnnypateenmike, the town gossip, is physically and emotionally the largest character in this tale. Schott’s acting here may border on the melodramatic, but it works. Johnnypateenmike is a buffoon, so a broader stroke is warranted here.

Ronan Walsh as Bartley adds a twinkle to the eye of a character that is described as the village idiot. Walsh’s effervescence allows Makena Margolin as his sister Helen to break our hearts, while we laugh, with her constant throttling of him.

Margolin seems to deeply understand her character here. Especially in her scenes with La Rocque, she projects the kind of world-weary shield that only people who have had to endure suffering have. Her take on Helen’s aggressive behavior reads perfectly as protection from, and protest of, earlier abuse.

Finally, Patrick Peterson as Babbybobby, Floyd Harden as Dr. McSharry and Kip Hogan as Mammy O’Dougal (Johnny’s 90-year-old alcoholic Mother) round out this ensemble with solid performances. All three are skilled actors who ground this mad world crafted by McDonagh, who said of his play, “I hope someday they’ll be regarded as true Irish stories…”

The set is lovely and traditional, repleat with delightful scenic painting. While the scene changes were slightly long, it didn’t break the action too much. Actually, in one instance a scene change served as a red herring leading one to the wrong conclusion, but if I tell you more it will give away too much.

The play is full of tall tales, reversals and humor as rough as the rocks off the Irish coast; but this is to its credit. If not for a few lines botched or fumbled and some inconsistent Irish dialects, this trip to the Emerald Isle is exactly what it should be tragically-comically heartwarming.

“The Cripple of Innishmann” continues through Aug. 20 at 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. In the Studio Theater at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St.

Tickets are available online at lbplayhouse.org or 562-494-1014, option 1.

Note: The Studio Theater is on the second floor. There is no elevator and the theater is only accessible by stairs.

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