Harry Potter, Man of Aran — the words have never come up before in the same sentence, let alone the same show — but April 20 at the Cort Theatre, those radically different worlds collided in a surprisingly harmonious and compatible bang.
In one corner we have the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, with its eight cinematic chapters grossing more than $7.7 billion worldwide. In the other corner, barely noticeable is a rough-hewn fictional documentary (an ethnofiction) put together with spit and bailing wire by the great Robert J. Flaherty in 1932-33 about eking out a meager, miserable existence on the Aran Islands off Ireland's west coast.
The thing that connects these galaxies is Daniel Radcliffe — a.k.a. the boy wizard of Hogwarts himself — who early on comes hopping and hobbling and careening center stage into a grocery store heavily stocked in cans of peas by his aunties. He would be The Cripple of Inishmaan, known to the whole calloused population, friend and foe alike, as "Cripple Billy." You'd hope for nicer treatment for a lad whose parents were drowned when he was a babe (a tale that, in the retelling, has deeper, darker layers).
Billy fancies that he sees a way to bolt to a kinder, gentler environment when Flaherty sets up shop on the neighboring island of Inishmore, and the filming can be seen from Inishmaan. Like his hellion girlfriend Helen and her brother Bartley, dreams of movie stardom saving them from their mean existence dance in his mind.
But this is a comedy by Martin McDonagh, who is not about to let that happen. His specialty is letting plays get so dark you have to laugh at them. (Exhibits A's: the Tony-nominated The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and A Behanding in Spokane and the Oscar-nominated "In Bruges" — grimly giddy, all.)
"It's an amazingly cruel play," Radcliffe conceded. "Martin creates this intelligent, sweet — lovable, I hope — character, then does horrible things to him for two hours."
McDonagh pleads guilty as charged: "All my writing, I guess, is like that — humor and violence and humor — and, hopefully, the humor will pull it through at the end."
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