The Immersion of Inishmaan

For students who read a screenplay, there is often a disconnect between the distant experience of reading and the vivid experience of viewing a director’s interpretation on stage. The experience of only reading a text can often be less-than-immersive for a reader who must balance their attention between time spent reading the text, intrusive thoughts, or environmental interruptions.  While The Cripple of Inishmaan is an excellent and diverse read, this was certainly my own experience of the text. Thanks to UMF’s recent production of The Cripple of Inishmaan and the incorporation of the text in many classrooms across campus, many students are able to dually experience the text. The play follows a crippled boy named Billy who lives in the tiny Irish village of Inishmaan. Farmington’s stellar performance of the tale was directed by Jayne Decker.

One of the biggest questions that I leave a screenplay with is how a stage production will create an immersive experience for an audience member (an experience that so often opposes the limited imagination and attention for readers). Of course, some elements of a play intrinsically assist with this; the darkened viewing area, real people who are reading lines producing an auditory and visual experience, and an (ideally) similarly immersed audience are all parts of this. However, there are significant differences in directorial choice when putting together a play that can be advantageous or detrimental to the viewer’s immersive experience.  For UMF’s production, the immersive elements were spot-on.

With various levels and layers to the set itself, the scenes of the play take place on an intuitively designed stage that requires no curtains or scene changes. The places for all the scenes are cleverly laid out, nestled in, or layered on top of one another. The production notably used actors rather than stagehands to transition between scenes in a natural way that is befitting of the character’s roles outside of the script itself. For example, Billy’s caring but backwards aunties clean up the eggy mess left behind by Helen in their shop after the blackout ends one scene.  These transition moments were thoughtful in their planning as they avoided breaking the aesthetic or illusion of the play and were intentional touches included by the director for this purpose.

Another element that added to the immersive experience of the production was the rigorous dialect training that the performers of Inishmaan went through.  Of course a bad accent can single-handedly soil a production, but the cast of this production achieved a natural and authentic-seeming dialect. In our discussion with director Jayne Decker, she discussed the attitude that she carried when she decided to do the production as, “if it requires dialect study, then they are going to do it,” without hesitation. The cast jumped straight into their dialect training, learning all of their lines in dialect to continue the authenticity and immersivity of the production.  In some cases, as Jayne discussed, the lines would have been very hard for an audience to understand if they were to be read in true Irish dialect.  To remedy this, Jayne used careful and successful discretion to alter some of the lines so that they were understandable enough without getting too far away from their dialect pronunciation.  The director and cast managed these alterations very artfully, never once being noticeable to myself.

Of course, there were innumerable other elements of this production that completed the illusion of the play.  From the heavy, thick textiles used in costuming that suggested Irishness in their stitches, to the addition of real eggs being smacked across a performer’s head, this performance was a delightfully immersive experience.  In tandem with the personal reading of the screenplay, The Cripple of Inishmaan held a diverse, whiplash-inducing emotional ride filled with laughs, tears, and a transformative Irish presence.

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1 Comment

  1. I am so impressed by the quality and thoughtfulness of all these essays. The play production was wonderful and impressive; though I got a chance to thank Jayne and some of the cast members, I didn;t get to thank Stan, who did such an extraordinary job with the sets. The play was a reintroduction for me to Irish theater and I went on to read all of Synge [Playboy of the Western World, and some one act plays]. I’m so glad the play was used across the curriculum.

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