Curio Theatre Company, the lively West Philly company that brought us Oedipussy and a lesbian Romeo and Juliet, among other theatrical delicacies, presents a Martin McDonagh play. This means we’re in for something funny across the surface with dark issues riding just under it. The violent, if humorous, rage of bad-boy playwright McDonagh’s later works, like The Lieutenant of Inishmore, A Behanding in Spokane, or his riotous film In Bruges, isn’t much in evidence here. THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN has comparatively small-time violence. For instance, someone could get stones or eggs pegged at his head, or maybe get smartly bonked with a lead pipe.
This is a story about bright, lonely Crippled Billy Claven (Peter Danelski, who does such a wonderfully convincing job that I was surprised he could straighten up for the final bow). Raised by his aunts, he spends his time reading and looking at cows. He has a secret crush on difficult, foul-mouthed Helen (Colleen Hughes), who has been routinely molested by bad priests.
So little happens in Inishmaan that the town busybody, Johnny Pateen Mike (excellent Paul Kuhn), is reduced to reporting on ducks and cats— along with everyone’s business. When a Hollywood film crew arrives on nearby Inishmore island with plans for an idyllic mock-doc about this impoverished part of western Ireland, he finally has big news to spread around. (Although Johnny Pateen has been trying to off his own mother for years, he will turn out to have a surprisingly compassionate streak.) A small boatload of villagers will go to the isle to investigate. Billy wants in. He might be picked to go to Hollywood and leave Ireland behind.
Superior lighting shows off various well-designed rural settings on the revolving stage, which is de rigeur for this play. It’s a charming, bittersweet story and there’s good chemistry among the cast members. Even given the story’s tragic dimensions, Curio’s yeoman’s effort should bring a million little laughs. On this, the night after opening night, however, despite inspired moments when the production comes across as funny as the play is actually written, the house is pretty quiet. Laughs are lost somewhere between the pacing and the inconsistent accents, some of which are hard to understand. Or could it be that it’s not the accents or pacing but over-concern for the underlying sadness that tamps down the hilarity?
It’s early in the run, and when these issues resolve, setting the comedy loose, the play will surely hit its stride. [Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 4740 Baltimore Ave] April 21-May 21, 2016; curiotheatre.org.