Saturday, March 12, 2011

Irish Nostalgia

Last night we went to see Martin McDonagh’s play, The Cripple of Inishmaan, performed by the Irish Druid and Atlantic Theater Company. The sponsor was University Musical Society, which presents music and drama at various venues here in Ann Arbor -- it's a coincidence that they put on an Irish play that's so timely for me. When an ad came in the mail, I couldn't resist; we went with our friends Bob and Elaine, who are theater lovers.

The action of the play takes place on Inishmaan, one of the Aran Islands just off Galway -- last week, on clear days, we could see this group of islands on the horizon from the Cliffs of Moher where we took a walk (photo of Lenny on the cliffs right/above; islands vaguely behind him).

The characters in the play are colorful and a bit of a cliche -- two oldish women, a gossipy old man and his very very old mother (who drinks poteen), a none-too-virtuous girl, her brother, and the title role, a crippled boy. The performance was what I would call theatrical: very stylized acting, sort of proclaimed. I enjoyed it, but it was unfamiliar: totally different from watching a movie. Of course the characters all speak in a strong Irish accent, which underscores the folksy, retro quality of the plot and the dialogue. Like many tales of common people, comedy and tragedy combine in the course of the play; what Sholem Aleichem called laughter through tears.

The experience of this play seemed very consistent with an article I recently read in the Guardian titled IRISH EXCEPTIONALISM. It asked why the recent dramatic economic boom and bust seems to have had little impact on Irish fiction -- after looking at recent Irish plays, songs, art exhibits, etc, the Guardian author seems to find only that YouTube is "dripping with home-made 'bail-out songs.'"

And, says the author, recent events resemble a fictional production, maybe a good play:
"The cast of characters is superlative, featuring buccaneering bankers, outsized politicians and all-conquering property developers .... Even the locations are enticing, from rural beauty spots blighted by "ghost estates" to high-end networking jamborees masquerading as racing events."

"You'd expect this sorry tale to have generated a wave of films, plays and novels. After all, the Irish have never shied away from telling stories about themselves. Visual artists must have hit upon a new mode of expression. Musicians, surely, would have found a way to express the story through song, as they have done with so many of Ireland's historical traumas. Hell, this story could make an opera."

However, the Irish continue to write about their past, rather than their present and future, says this thoughtful article. One conclusion: "many of us hold tight to outdated notions of Ireland as a romantic sort of place that only the artist can really understand." Though I liked McDonagh’s Cripple of Inishmaan last night, I think this statement sums it up.

Note: I also liked the review of the play in the local online newspaper.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

I saw this play rather awhile ago back when we still had the BoarsHead theatre here. I remember really liking it. It must have had a special resonance given your recent trip.