Billy’s Monologue

Before attending the UMF’s production of Cripple of Inishmaan, I was rather curious as to how Billy’s monologue was going to be staged. After all, the monologue makes a rather complex scene. Upon the first time reading the script, the reader often believes that perhaps Billy is nearing the end of his life, but after reaching the big reveal, the reader realizes this scene merely depicts Billy practicing some lines for a screen-test. In a way, this monologue pokes fun a melodrama as Billy himself comments on the absurdity of having to sing “Croppy Boy” for the scene. Knowing the script inside and out, the director then has to make the difficult decision of either having the scene be completely serious, or perhaps hint to the audience that what is happening may not be what it appears to be.

The UMF production went with the serious interpretation of the scene, which proved to be quite moving and powerful. This was one of two scenes where the audience did not applaud at the end. The audience was too moved to clap after such a serious and upsetting scene. Deciding to make Billy’s monologue appear authentic and not just reciting a script made Billy’s return much more exciting for the unsuspecting audience members. Several gasps of genuine surprise were to be heard when Billy was revealed behind the projection screen.

The production’s actual set design of the monologue was also very interesting and powerful. The actor who portrayed Billy performed the monologue in a small space just above the actual stage. The physical separation of this space from the rest of the set shows Billy’s own distance from his home. The decor was much more scarce than in the script. There was really only a chair and a table compared to a whole hotel room’s worth of furniture. This small amount of furniture added a sort of starkness to the scene. The focus falls on Billy’s words and actions without the audience being overwhelmed by a whole new set of furniture and props.

Even though the monologue was very serious and powerful, there is one element in the set design that evokes the sense that not everything is as it seems. This element is how the small space has a sort of screen or glass wall. This glass wall, while meant for the safety of the actor, creates a separation between Billy and the audience. This separation, as well as the upward angle of the space, seems to mimic the sense of watching a film in a movie theatre. Even though this is very subtle, an audience member who may have some experience with the play might recognize from this staging that this monologue is not quite as it seems for a first time viewer.

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