The Arts

Southold Drama Club to perform acclaimed dark comedy ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’

The curtain is set to rise on the dark comedy “The Cripple of Inishmaan” in the Southold district auditorium Friday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. Performances follow Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 5, at 2 p.m.

The dark comedy, by British-Irish playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, comes with a recommended audience age range of 15 and over, suggested by the school.

Southold Drama Club co-directors and teachers Jessica Ellwood and Casey Rooney said they read through plays every year and chose this one because they wanted to do something a little different. “I loved the play, great script. It’s a great opportunity for the kids to really show their stuff,” said Mr. Rooney. “As a follow up to [last year’s] ‘The Play That Goes Wrong,’ it was so funny,” Mr. Rooney recalled. “I liked the idea to do something more dramatic. It’s tragic and yet it’s comedic.”

Mr. Rooney shared that people familiar with McDonagh’s work are jazzed to see the school take on this play. “It’s a little more contemporary and with more edge to it. It’s someone just wanting a better life,” he said. 

Southold Drama Club poster designed by high school senior Johnny Chen.

The dark comedy play centers on Billy Claven, a disabled orphan living on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland in 1934. In traditional Irish storytelling style, humor is found amid Billy’s bitterness and boredom. His life changes when the town gossip, Inishmaan’s own Johnnypateenmike, spills that a Hollywood production is coming to the island. Billy eyes this as his ticket out of the tedium.

Quinn Bruer, a senior, has the lead role of Billy. “Quinn is a veteran,” said Ms. Ellwood. “He asked, ‘What does [Billy] look like?’ We said, ‘That’s up to you.’ This character lives on a remote island with a very small group of people. His whole identity is wrapped up in his physicality. He’s trying to get away from that,” she explained. “So [Quinn’s] been trying different things and we’ve given him feedback. He’s been making his choices about what makes sense.”

Ms. Ellwood added that the rest of the cast is excited for the dark comedy too. “Some of the shows we’ve done have had name recognition, and many have not. This was one of them. They understand the opportunity for getting into a script we haven’t done before,” she said. She explained that this show is completely different from last year’s “over the top, crazy comedy.” 

“They are doing something different, especially the students we’ve been working with for a while. They get to explore characters and relationships, have conversations about characters and the ‘Irishness’ of it,” said Ms. Ellwood.

High school principal Terence Rusch shares the students’ excitement. “We have an incredible fine arts program and especially our drama program,” he said. “The students are incredibly talented, and we’re incredibly proud of what they do.” Mr. Rusch noted that “The Cripple of Inishmaan” will be the 31st school production co-directed by Ms. Ellwood and Mr. Rooney. He remarked on the wide range of shows presented over the years, “from rom-com to straight comedy to this dark comedy. ” 

Mr. Rooney, who also designs and builds the stage sets with the help of student and parent volunteers, said the production is nearing completion. He said it was a simple set this time around. “I wanted to capture the desolate islands,” he said. “I was inspired by the movie ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ also written by Martin McDonagh — stone walls, simple buildings, architecture. The show doesn’t call for elaborate set, but what we have captures the tone of the show.”

Ms. Ellwood said the trick to nailing the comic relief of the script includes lots of time getting into it at the beginning. “They see it’s a humorous moment. Fortunately, our kids are naturally comedic actors,” she said. “Inflection and timing has a lot to do with it.”

She added: “the play is continuing to unfold and take root — the excitement of it. The students are finding all the different colors in the humanity. They are having fun with it.”