One of the aunties looks exactly like Marla Hooch and the other talks to stones when things get rough. The aunties get more than their fair share of gossip from Johnnypateenmike (Pat Shortt), who has the worst name since I thought Conchita Wurst was a real name. JPM comes by the aunties’ shoppe (which is overflowing with canned peas) every day, sharing bits of ‘news’, including such winners as whose cat bit whose rabbit or some such, and in return demands eggs and what not.
One of the bits of news he shares is that a Hollywood film crew is filming on the nearby island of Inishmore and wants to cast locals!! Squee! says the whole town. We all want to be in the Hollywood moving pictures! This kind of random turn of events sets the main ‘plot’ in motion, thought the play isn’t really plot-driven so much as character-driven and it would have been equally effective without this whole, well, plot. Anyway, the Crip hears this news and believes it to be his chance to make something of himself.
Johnnypateenmike seems pretty darn annoying, and not just because of his name, and kind of assy, but of course our first impression is super wrong because this is a play and we have to learn that we’re not always right about red-nosed greasy-haired Irish men who drink a lot. Our first impression is also wrong, though moving from the opposite direction, of Babbybobby, another unfortunately named male considering babby = baby in Ireland speak. He seems pretty sensitive and kind at first, helping Billy get to Inishmore to try out for the film crew. But he shows himself to be a crazy kind of sensitive in that when he is offended he beats the shit out of crippled boys. But he does agree to stop calling him Crippled Billy (before he cripples him even more), so that’s something.
Babbybobby takes Billy across the sea or whatever body of water is legendarily difficult to cross but reasonably doable in a handmade canoe. Although the other characters were laughing at Billy’s desire to try out for the film crew, they actually end up wanting him to come to Hollywood for a proper screen test. Yay Billy! He goes without telling his aunties what he’s up to, and rumor spreads (that Billy himself may or may not have started) that he is dying and left to die in solitude. Prettayyy dire. But then he comes back. But then he probably is dying anyway. There’s a lot of great dramatic irony. You should read or see the play.
The most electric member of this superb ensemble (freal) is Sarah Greene as Helen, who is pretty much the Irish ginger lass version of Reese Witherspoon’s Melanie Spooner from “Sweet Home Alabama”. (Actually, whichever one of these came second may have stolen the character from the other.) Melanie was famous for attaching dynamite to a cat to blow up a bank; Helen kills a neighbor’s cat for money. (Kind of also like Angel Dumott Schunard BUT NOT NEARLY AS AWESOME.) At first, as Helen’s first scene features her recounting how she hit or egged some priests for inappropriate touching, I was like, oh wow this chick ROCKS! Beat those priests! But as we observe Helen, her ballsiness evidences its tendency toward sadism. Maybe it’s a result of her being treated as women were and still are, but like you could adapt to be more Daenarys and less Ramsey Snow.
Anyway, this total crazy bitch eggs things and people any chance she gets. To demonstrate this, the production destroys at least a dozen real eggs during every performance. I almost leapt down from my box to stop her. Ok, so having a young girl throw eggs a lot shows that she is ‘fun’ and ‘rambunctious’ and ‘confident’, but really it’s just sad and wasteful and unnecessary to use real eggs when we already understand the character. They were going to be chickens! And instead of at least being used as eggs so the many lives lost in their production wouldn’t be completely in vain, they are cracked upon another ginger’s head and thrown at bedsheets acting as movie screens. UGH anger. Between this and the eggs Andy Karl drinks every show in “Rocky”, this Broadway season is not cruelty-free.
ANYWAY. That other ginger being egged so much is Helen’s brother Bartley, who is kind of lovable and sweet, but he’s completely incapable of deflecting his sister’s constant need to beat the shit out of someone. All this kid wants is American candies, or in a pinch any candies, which he persistently asks the aunties for in hilarious bits. The best such bit is when Auntie Marla Hooch just keeps repeating “We have what you see!” in tones of increasing impatience. (He calls candies ‘sweeties’ but we will not stoop to such low levels because it’s a terrible, awful, no good word in that awful trend of taking the defining trait and making a noun of it WHICH IS BULLSHIT. Add to my list of verboten words ‘tasty’, ‘brekkie’, ‘choccy’, ‘biccie’, and more we will get to at some point in the future.)
For some reason, Billy is crazy so crazy in love with Helen, which I don’t get unless he believes that shit about how the meanest kids in elementary school really just had crushes on you or something because otherwise he is just a glutton for punishment. I mean she treats him so terribly, making fun of his ailments and telling terrible stories about his parents. God she’s the worst (but the actress is amazing. And looks exactly like Emma Stone.).
Radcliffe’s affectations of the deformities are so well done that, while at first they are shocking, they become so accepted and you get used to it. It’s an amazing physical performance, as he swings one of his legs around and keeps one arm bent at his shoulder. Very strange. Anyway, Crippled Billy goes to Hollywood, and in the second act we wonder if he made it, or if he’s actually dying, or dead. Then we think the question is answered, as Radcliffe’s performs the show’s biggest “Watch Me Acting” scene, in which he convulses and coughs and prays and cries out to his deceased parents and clutches things, as he dies. It’s pretty heartbreaking…yet it seems like a manifestation of a playwright’s manic excess and not like anything the character would do. It was like someone exclaiming in Shakespearean monologues when a train is late (which I do but still). But it all makes sense when we learn later that this ‘scene’ we saw, Billy’s death, was actually Billy’s screen test! And it went badly and caused the producers to send him back home! So, like, knowing this is even more impressive on Radcliffe’s part. He had to act this big huge scene as dramatically as all get out, and expertly do it poorly. No easy feat.
For about two minutes everything seems hunky-dory, with the aunties and Billy reunited, but being a dark Irish play, everything goes to shit soon after. In the span of maybe five minutes, we learn from Johnnypateenmike the truth about Billy’s parents, and it is a doozy. Possibly the saddest thing ever and reminiscent of a part from Benjamin Button. And in that moment JPM becomes like the greatest man alive. Aw. Then, just as the rumors about Billy’s terminal illness are revealed as lies he introduced himself, we learn that lying about having bad diseases angers the gods or something and will lead them to give the liar in question the very disease they lied about having, in an ironic twist of fate. Pretty f-ing sad, Ireland. But none of it seems overwrought or theatrical. The play, so expertly produced and acted, leaves you not feeling dejected but feeling lucky to have witnessed such insight into human emotion and the randomness of fortune. It’s definitely one of the best of the season.