by Julia Moss
“My parents didn’t drown themselves because of me — they loved me.” A young boy, his body misshapen, his feet turned in, and his right hand frozen in place looks up from his lap with a shy but determined smile. He opens his mouth again, but begins to cough violently before he can speak. “Would you love you if you weren’t you, Cripple Billy?” asks a fierce looking girl standing over him. The boy’s stare returns to his lap.
Directed by seniors Charlie Beers and Graham Techler, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” follows the story of Billy Clavan, a deformed and sickly orphan. The show goes up tonight at 7:30 in the auditorium and will be performed through Saturday. More information and tickets are available at theatreink.net
Growing up in 1934 Ireland on the remote island community of Inishmaan, Billy has always been told that his parents committed suicide to escape raising a handicapped child. However, Billy, labeled Cripple Billy by the residents of Inishmaan, firmly believes that his parents’ death was an accident — that they drowned while trying to sail to America. Cripple Billy wants to fulfill what he believes were his parents wishes. He dreams to leave Inishmaan and to make it to America.The perfect opportunity arises when a film crew from Hollywood comes to the neighboring island of Inishmore to make a movie about life on the islands, seeking actors to bring home to America.
When Cripple Billy first enters the stage — obviously very ill — it seems that there is no hope that he will ever make it to America, or even next door to Inishmore. He cannot walk more than a few steps without coughing and wheezing and having to sit down. He spends his days going from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment. When he is not at the doctor, he sits and stares at cows.
The members of the Inishmaan community, even those who love Cripple Billy, reflect on the hopelessness of his situation throughout the first act of the play. Billy’s doting adoptive “aunties,” Kate and Eileen, constantly worry about their quasi-son. Kate says at the beginning of the play, “Poor Billy will never get kissed unless it be a blind girl. The poor lass.”
In fact, at times, it seems that Kate and Eileen are anxious about Billy to the point of insanity. Kate, played by senior Nicole Bunis, begins to talk to a stone when she is especially worried about Cripple Billy. Eileen, played by senior Emma Weisberg, deals with her anxiety about Billy by overeating. Both Bunis and Weisberg were very impressive in the way they were able to switch between a more serious tone, and a playful demeanor, as their roles required.
Helen McCormick, the feisty beauty of Inishmaan,and the love of Cripple Billy’s life is played by junior Eliza Burr. Helen speaks very bluntly about Billy’s situation. Whenever Billy appears sad, Helen says, “Thinking about your dead mommy and daddy, are you Cripple Billy?” and laughs. She goes into hysterics when she finds out about Billy’s dream to go to America.
It seems that all of the characters change a great deal throughout The Cripple of Inishmaan. Kate and Eileen, who are at first funny and whimsical, show a more serious side by the end of the show. Helen McCormick, the feisty beauty of Inishmaan played by junior Eliza Burr, transforms from Billy’s tormentor to the love of his life. Inconsiderate and often mischievous throughout the first act, Helen eventually softens enough to return Cripple Billy’s affections. Johnny Pateen, the town gossip who is played by sophomore Ezra Dulti-Greenberg, at first seems entirely devious but shows a kind side when he speaks gently to Cripple Billy about Billy’s late parents.
But it is Cripple Billy who changes most of all. He sheds his meek and helpless personality when he lies that he is dying in order to get a spot on the boat to Inishmore. He surprises the audience even further when he lands an audition for the Hollywood movie and achieves his dream of moving to America. Billy transforms from a hopeless boy with a far-off dream to a man with hope for the future. Sophomore Will Champion, who played the role of Cripple Billy, did an incredible job. Taking on a heavy limp and wheezing cough, Champion brought the character to life. And he certainly captured Billy’s perserverant spirit.
Overall, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” was a very well done performance. Filled with dark humor and thick Irish accents, there was never a dull moment. Although by the end of the performance, it is clear that Billy does not have much time left, and that his parents were not kind people as he believed, the show leaves viewers with hope for the future and a deep respect for Billy Clavan.