The Cripple of Inishmaan – Script and Production

In the production of a play every director makes decisions that mold the script into production form; as a reader they mediate the text, finishing the piece in creating the space of the stage. In choosing the actors, props,   defining scenes, lighting cues, and completing the play through numerous others decisions left ambiguous in the script they participate in final step of production. Having read the script before viewing the play a member of the audience is permitted the privileged place beyond seduction, where the choices manifested by the production become discernable – a critical eye is brought to bear upon decisions that a reader of the script may overlook and that the audience may partake of unaware.

The most distinguishing difference in my experience with the play directed by Jayne Decker when compared with that of reading was the prominence of Johnnypateenmike’s character. In viewing the play as a comedy the performance of Jagger Trouant carries the action through his characters ridiculous pursuit of hot news. He unites the scenes, lurking in doorways, pursuing stories with an entitlement that defines him. What could be read as cruelty in the script comes off as purely ridiculous, and beneath the scenes the audience discerns a communal affection for this bumbling hack.

There is cleverness about him not dissimilar from that of Billy – they are both liars. Billy lies to Babbybobby to get what he wants, and the audience is made aware of Johnnypatten’s deception twice at the plays close: first, when he gets rid of the Doctor by telling him that he has left his mother drunk at the bottom of a staircase; second, when he concocts the tale of Billy’s parents drowning. They are not only paired by this, but also by their interest in stories –  Billy is said to always have his nose stuck in a book, Johnnypateen always is always relaying the stories of others. Where my reading of the script divided these characters (perhaps until the final scene) the play succeeds in uniting them as dual protagonists, for it is through both performances that the play progresses.

That being said, following the increased prominence of Johnnypateen in the play are the decisions concerning Billy. In the middling scene that the script tells us takes place in a “squalid Hollywood hotel room” Billy presents a monologue that leaves the reader uncertain of his foreshadowed death. The performance of this scene excludes the stage as Billy appears on an elevated plane without backdrop nor prop; the context is removed and the audience is left solely with the performance of Aaron Verrill to define this scene. The increased sickliness of Billy is emphasized here, almost overdramatized – is this the performance of Billy, or Billy’s performance? The audience is certain of Billy’s illness at the end of this scene, only to be turned on its head when he appears behind the projection scrim.

In the last scene the script gives the reader a handful of revelations: Johnnypateen shows kindness in his fabrication of the story of Billy’s parents death, is next revealed by Eileen and Kate as Billy’s savior; Helen presents a dimension of kindness unforeseen; Billy is condemned to the disease he falsely attributed to himself in his forged doctors note; Babbybobby reveals his temper and offence at Billy’s deception. The performances that differed most strongly from my reading of the script were the performance of Helen and the reaction of Billy when he learns the truth of his parent’s death. In this scene Helen’s inflection changes when Billy says she must be getting soft, and she hurts him slightly only to show she’s not vulnerable. This inflection definitively reveals another side of Helen where the script leaves her intentions in question – though Billy hopeful.

The one point that was left unclear to me is how to view Billy’s reaction when he hears his aunts relate the truth of his parent’s death: Verrill appears, obviously upset. He grabs a sack, throws some cans of peas in there, and is about to march off as Helen enters. As a reader of the script I know that the script calls for this to signify the suicidal intent of Billy – he means to drown himself with canned peas. However as a member of the audience I questioned whether this is what we being communicated; granted he could probably succeed in drowning himself, but I naturally tended to view this act as a sign of running away from home. The play leaves its audience in an uncertain place, where signs point in multiple directions, and characters have revealed themselves to have a dimension more than first assumed, derived from the softness and vulnerability revealed by the cast in this final scene. It leaves its audience in a very human place, where there is never really any certainty but perhaps a measure of affection and hope, despite appearances.

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