Martin McDonagh is one of my favorite playwrights; his work has been produced many times on Broadway and everywhere else. At least two of his plays, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman, are outright masterpieces. In almost all McDonagh’s plays, the darker and more vicious the action becomes, the more wildly hilarious the proceedings grow. As more characters get dismembered, shot in the face and buried alive, everything only gets funnier, and not polite/literary amusing, but truly funny. McDonagh constantly toys with audience expectations. Just as we feel that a character has suffered enough and deserves a hug or at least a moment of relief, another character will enter and beat the first guy to a bloody pulp, and then the bloody pulp with also be diagnosed with tuberculosis. In The Pillowman, one brother asks another something along the lines of “But didn’t you know that if you cut off all of a child’s toes and fingers and left him alone in the middle of a forest all night long, that he would bleed to death?” The other brother replies, “Well, I know that now.”
I love all of McDonagh’s plays, but the only work which had puzzled me was The Cripple of Inishman. I’d seen two productions, and neither had really worked for me. Many of the characters in McDonagh’s plays have thick Irish accents, and this requires an American theatergoer’s close attention. On Wednesday I went to a matinee of the new Broadway production directed by Michael Grandage, and suddenly the play made wonderful sense. It follows the desperate life of Crippled Billy, a young man living on a bleak Irish island in the 1930s. Everyone in the play mocks Billy relentlessly, and his otherwise doting aunts decide that even a blind girl would have problems kissing Billy. Even though I knew the play, the many plot twists still surprised and delighted me.
In this production, Billy is played by Daniel Radcliffe, who’s both accomplished and movie-star magnetic, while happily joining an amazing ensemble of actors. I especially liked a beautiful young English actress named Sarah Greene, who plays Helen McCormack, a cruel and gleefully violent local girl. This actress never tried to soften the role or distance herself from it, which made her irresistible.
McDonagh has also begun writing and directing movies, including the terrific In Bruges with Colin Ferrell; even though all of the characters keep talking about how boring Bruges is, the movie made me want to move there. McDonagh’s movies are also giddily violent, but I think it’s even harder to chop people up onstage.
Here’s a photo of McDonagh, who’s a handsome devil.