Cripple Billy has had it with small town life. And he’s determined to get out.
The title character in the dark comedy “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” set in 1934 and written by Martin McDonagh, is not alone. Many of his neighbors on the remote island off the western coast of Ireland are also keen to leave.
Will they get their chance for bigger and better lives when Los Angeles-based director Robert Flaherty arrives on the neighboring island of Inishmore to film the documentary “Man of Aran?” Will the people of Inishmaan become big Hollywood stars in the process? And why does everyone think it’s okay to call someone “Cripple Billy?”
Those questions and more will be answered when “The Cripple of Inishmaan” stages at Guild Hall in East Hampton, opening on Wednesday, May 22. The East End production features a cast of Manhattan-based and local professionals, including Evan Daves, Margaret Dawson, Tom Gustin, Christopher Imbrosciano, Kristen Lowman, Tuck Milligan, Joe Pallister, Janet Sarno and Georgia Warner. Stephen Hamilton directs.
The perhaps not quite so politically correct dark comedy is full of heartache, heartbreak and hilarity, according to Mr. Imbrosciano, who plays the disabled orphan Cripple Billy.
“There are genuine, sincere moments and wicked moments,” he said during a telephone interview while taking a short break from afternoon rehearsal last Tuesday. “You’ll be laughing despite yourself.”
One of the first actors, perhaps the first actor with a disability to play the role, Mr. Imbrosciano said that he finds the character challenging to play but very rewarding.
“It’s very exciting for me. I read it back in college, at Rowan University in New Jersey, and have been looking to play this role since,” he said. “It’s almost like everything I’ve worked for.”
The actor, who has had over 25 operations on his legs in order to “walk, quote, unquote, normal” said that the portraying Cripple Billy pushes him hard physically.
“This character is a little bit more disabled than I am,” he said, adding that he and Mr. Hamilton are working on how the physical challenges would affect the character’s walk and other movements. “I have to be able to maintain that physically and not be totally wiped out.”
Being able to relate to the character’s physical impairments was one thing, he added, but tapping into Cripple Billy’s mindset was also exciting for the actor.
“It’s the idea that the character is taking his life into his own hands and actively pursuing what he wants,” he said. “It’s incredibly challenging the arc that my character has to go through throughout the play. It’s an emotional roller-coaster.”
Finely drawn characters, a compelling story and the playwright’s mastery drew Mr. Hamilton to the story.
“The play, like all of Mr. McDonagh’s work, is both fierce and funny … and steeped in the great Irish tradition of storytelling for its own sake,” he said. “He’s a comic master, a comic genius. There’s such a wonderful contrast, and darkness as well. This is one of those great plays, one that deserves a special place in theatrical history, because of everything that it does.”
And even with the non-pc title, and the Irish brogues, East End audiences will surely relate to the story, the director reported.
“Truth be told, the hilarious conflation of character and circumstance that drives the small town life of Inishmaan in 1934 is not that different from that of any East End village in 2013,” he said.
Like he did in last year’s “Uncle Vanya,” for this play Mr. Hamilton has chosen to set it, along with the audience, on the actual Guild Hall stage. The theater-within-a-theater configuration adds a level of intimacy between the actors and those watching, he explained. The only downside is that the smaller seating area means that fewer tickets will be available, so those interested should make their reservations before the show is sold out.
“The Cripple of Inishmaan” will stage at Guild Hall in East Hampton from Wednesday, May 22, through June 9. Show times are Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 general admission, $28 for Guild Hall members and $10 for students. For reservations call the Guild Hall box office at 324-4050, visit guildhall.org or call Theatermania at (866) 811-4111 or visit theatermania.com.