By Hannah Courtney, Staff Writer
The West Liberty Hilltop Players had audiences on the edge of their seats with emotions with their recent rendition of “The Crucible.” Now, they’re back to evoke internal emotions with their upcoming performance of Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan.”
According to West Liberty Theatre Director Michael Aulick, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is a play set in 1934 that takes place within the Aran Islands community of Inishmaan off the Western Coast of Ireland. It follows Billy Claven, otherwise known as “Cripple Billy.” His nickname is a reflection of the physical deformities he was born with in both his foot and his hand.
Billy grows up in the midst of being made fun of and treated like a little boy despite the fact that he’s actually rather smart and intuitive. A big break presents itself when he learns of a movie being produced on the neighboring island of Inishmore. The interesting thing about this aspect of the play is that it links to the actual filming of Robert Flaherty’s documentary “Man of Aran” which took place in Inishmore. The downside is that Billy has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. From here, the viewer follows Billy on his pursuit of happiness and the challenges, triumphs, and bittersweet combinations of the two that follow.
Part of the play’s appeal to Aulick is the challenge it presents to those involved in the actual production.
“It allowed us to do student designers ’cause it’s challenging for the design. There (are) five different locations and we have a fairly limited set, so the designer has to think outside the box to develop the ideas. It’s a play that allowed us to challenge all of our students, scenic design, lighting design, sound design, (and) actors kind of equivalently so that they all were given a chance. It’s a tough play to do so it’s another step to continue to try to raise the bar,” Aulick said.
Hand-in-hand with this challenge is the challenge presented to the actors, “The one thing that the actors have a hard time doing is balancing the heavy Irish with the articulation that we need in the theater so people can understand the words that they’re saying. Trying to get the ability to have that dialect and have clear articulation and annunciation and passion as an actor is a tough thing for them to balance. Which is one of the reasons I picked the show. It demands a level of performance that I hope that they’re up to,” Aulick said.
There are also challenges involved for the viewers as well. This isn’t the family friendly, light and fluffy type of play one may expect when going to see a theater production.
“I think the thing the audience will have the most difficult time with is how willing they are to say mean things to each other. After working on it so long we’ve lost some of that shock and so now we find it a little funny. The first act typically I think the audience will be like ‘yikes.’ This should come with an adult advisory. There’s a lot of language. There’s a little bit of violence, there’s a little sexual content,” Aulick said.
However, that being said, if the viewers can stomach the fact that it’s a little rough around the edges, there’s promise of a great theatrical viewing experience to a broad range of audience members.
“I think the audience will want Billy to be successful and will sit there hoping and going with him. When he’s successful they’re going ‘yes’ and when he’s not they’re going ‘please.’ They will invest themselves in this play. Some kids will like it because it’s funny. Some will like it because the Irish dialect is fun to listen to. This, probably more than any other production that we’re gonna do here, will be one for people who like theater and for people who don’t like theater. This play is the play for college students. It is different. It’s not that shinning happy musical, the ‘Oklahoma!’ kind of thing. If you like theater, it’s so well written you’ll like it,” Aulick said.
The rough exteriors of this play offer a silver lining as well.
“The point of the play is the struggle to make the life you wanna live. Ireland’s storytelling tradition is way different than ours. It doesn’t have to be happy. There’s pain and I don’t think pain in a bad way. It’s pain that makes you feel. This play is about helping the audience feel. We bottle up our emotions so much. Life is pain at times and if you don’t have that, you don’t have the opposite either; you don’t have real joy without experiencing and feeling the gamete of emotions that we have and too often, especially in the U.S., bottle up emotionally.
“We teach our kids don’t cry growing up, big boys don’t cry, don’t give them the satisfaction, never let them see you sweat, be cool and we get to the point where we are automations on the inside. One of the nice things about theater is it can be a cathartic experience for people just to help them feel things. You just go ‘I feel more alive today because of that thing I just experienced.’ And I think there’s a benefit to that,” Aulick said.
If that doesn’t convince you, perhaps the fact that Aulick compares it to the likes of “The Boondock Saints” or the Irish version of Quentin Tarantino will.
The cast includes: Mack Kale as Billy Claven, Olivia Ullmann as Kate Osbourne, Kacie Craig as Eileen Osbourne, Mike Aulick as Johnnypateenmike, Cassie Hackbart as Helen McCormick, David Dudzik as Bartley McCormick, Jaccob Trifonoff as Babbybobby, Derek Park as Doctor McSharry, and Samantha Alkire as Mammy O’Dougal.
The play will run Nov. 29 through Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 3 p.m. Ticket reservations can be made by calling 304-336-8277. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $12.50 or at a discounted price of $8 for general admission, $7 for regional students, senior citizens and WLU faculty members, and $5 for WLU students online at htpinishmaan.brownpapertickets.com.