Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Not a word. Not a word. Not a word. . . . "

From the opening scene  of this brilliant play by the Irish playwright Martin McDonagh I was impressed by the humor -- a humor based in the honesty of the characters in this small town on the western coast of Ireland.  These were characters who spoke their mind and in doing so often spoke the truth which brought laughter when it did not hurt too much.  
The production by the Druid and Atlantic Theater Company from Ireland now playing at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is excellent in all its aspects from direction to set to acting.  The drama, while filled with comic moments whether from the droll commentary by Eileen and Kate, Billy Craven's pixilated "Aunties",  who run the local general store or the spurious seriousness of JohnnyPateenMike who cares for his drunken mother and makes it his mission to share "news" with the locals of his neighborhood, is ultimately serious in the desire of young Billy,  known as cripple Billy, who is searching for love and for escape from the torment of just about everybody in the town and from the memory of his dead parents.  His parents deaths are shrouded in mystery as is much of what occurs in the play, for nothing, it turns out, is exactly what you think it is or expect it to be.  And that is one of the strengths of this play.  For McDonagh upsets the audience's expectations and in the process creates a nuanced and emotionally moving drama without the sentimentality that could have easily developed.  Billy is engaged in a seemingly Sisyphean task but the coming of Hollywood to the neighboorhood of Inishmaan gives him his one chance to escape.
The germ of an idea for the play was apparently based on a real incident when a film company from America came to this area to make a film titled "Man from Aram".  The image of the actors on stage staring out at the audience as they watch the resulting film in the second act of the play is one of the many memorable moments and along with revelations and realizations of the main characters helps bring this play to a meaningful and effective conclusion.  I have seldom seen such a powerful dramatic performance in my years of play-going.

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