YEARNING Marisa Urgo and Kevin Mark Lynch in The Cripple of Inishmaan.
Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan, the last of his Aran Islands trilogy, is being served very well by the actors at Providence College Theatre (through November 6). You could say without heated opposition that they are doing a better job than the playwright himself did.
A couple of stock characters are rounded out perfunctorily at the end, for example, though the actual performances all around are quite good, under the direction of Mary G. Farrell. The disappointment is that in finally revealing soft sides, those two hard cases prompt not an "Of course!" but rather an "Oh, really now?"
The dark comedy is set in the small Aran Islands community of Inishmaan in 1934, just as filming has concluded for Man of Aran, the fictional documentary that was made there. The islands are off the West Coast of Ireland, as though they are trying to drift to America, to where much of their population has yearned to escape.
Yearning with the best of them is Billy Craven (Kevin Mark Lynch). He is addressed by everyone as Cripple Billy, not out of meanness but rather because these people are as blunt as mallets, pounding the self-respect out of him for all of his teenage years. A smidgen remains, however, enough for him to dream of being cast in the movie that everybody is talking about.
Dreaming even more furiously about a film career, and having the hyperkinetic personality to match, is Helen McCormick (Marisa Urgo), the town slut whom Billy is sweet on. Even stronger than her lubricious nature is her meanness, mostly inflicted upon her "feckin' brother" Bartley (Patrick Mark Saunders). He is not usually assertive, but when she takes twisted pride in being groped by the priest choir director, Bartley points out that this "doesn't take much skill," earning another drubbing.
What a meanie. "I've always preferred Pontius Pilate to Jesus," she mentions in passing. Although Helen says that she stays surly so that she won't be taken advantage of, her over-the-top violence seems to come from the playwright more than from Helen herself.
Poor Billy, with his dragging foot and crumpled arm, has been taken care of since infanthood by his "aunts," a sweet couple of sisters, Kate and Eileen Osborne (Danielle Demisay, Erin Fusco). Eventually Kate begins talking to and being answered by a pet stone. She hasn't been written or directed as quirky, so this comes across as colorful decoration rather than honest characterization.
Other characters include Babbybobby Bennett (Daniel Caplin), a fisherman whom people rely on when they need to be rowed to the mainland; Dr. McSharry (Ryan Fink), who comes in handy when tuberculosis, the disease that melodramas cannot do without, strikes; and Mammy (Grace Curley), a hearty 90-year-old whose son has spent a fortune on her for the past 65 years, ineffectively feeding her liquor in trying to kill her.