“The Cripple of Inishmaan”
What: University of Nebraska at Omaha Theatre stage drama
Where: Weber Fine Arts Building, 6001 Dodge St.
When: 7:30 tonight and Oct. 9-12
Tickets: $15 adults, $10 senior citizens and military, $5 students with valid school ID
Information: 402-554-7529 or unomaha.edu/unotheatre
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A student-designed production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” Martin McDonagh's tragicomedy set in 1934 Ireland, does the University of Nebraska at Omaha's theater department and director D. Scott Glasser proud in several ways.
Thursday's preview showed off excellent scenery and costumes, effective lighting and a strong cast of character actors. And that cast used some of the best-done Irish accents I've heard to great comic effect.
“The Cripple of Inishmaan” centers on Billy, an unassuming young man with a severe limp and shriveled right hand whom all the other characters callously call Cripple Billy.
His adoptive aunties who run a small grocery, Eileen and Kate, have fussed over him since his parents drowned when he was tiny. Pretty and profane Slippy Helen, who delivers eggs to the store, tortures him with her unobtainable beauty. Her dimwit little brother, Bartley, drives him nuts with prattle.
Worst of all, local gossip Johnnypateen gets into everybody's business and spreads it around, accurate or not. So, when Johnny tells everyone an American filmmaker has come to the Aran Islands to make a movie on a nearby isle and is auditioning actors and extras, it's no surprise Billy is the one who most wants to escape.
Helen is sure her natural beauty will get her a part. But for Billy to get to the island, he has to talk boatman Bobby, a widower, into taking him along with Helen. Bobby says taking a cripple in his boat is bad luck, but a mysterious note from the doctor changes his mind.
The villagers laugh at Billy's dream, sure he has no chance. They're all resigned to their ruts in life, and they resent Billy's reach for something more.
The show's biggest delight is veteran actor Paul Boesing as gossipy Johnny, who wheedles, blackmails and curses everybody around him. His interactions with his mother (Manuela S. Lopez) are also a hoot.
Among the students, Jack Landrie is spot on as stoic Billy, handling both the physical demands of the role and a wide emotional range in a focused, controlled performance. Bethany Hillmer is also terrific as profane, nasty, Helen, whom you can't help admiring anyway.
Everyone in the cast does notable character work. Nick Knipe is consistently fun as goofy Bartley, obsessed with sweets when he's not smarting off at his deserving sister.
You will notice no difference in UNO's strong production values. Alec Rigdon's scenic design framed by stone walls, Jordan Sutherland's blue-sky lighting and Zoe Zachariae's patched, period costumes are all excellent.
McDonagh (“The Pillowman,” “A Behanding in Spokane”) displays more empathy for his characters here, though his black side remains an undercurrent as the play's secrets and twists spill out right to the end.
As for me, I couldn't stop laughing at McDonagh's sharply drawn characters and slicing small-town dialogue.