The tagline for the latest play by the Guild is: “A twisted, blackened little Irish comedy.”
“There’s nothing little about it,” director Brian Cochrane said with a laugh. “But the rest is true.”
The Cripple of Inishmaan is the creation of Irish playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh. It was first staged in 1996 in London and has since seen multiple revivals, including in New York and Los Angeles.
This year it was seen in London’s West End, starring Daniel Radcliffe.
The previous success of the play in larger venues does not intimidate Whitehorse’s director.
“No, that excited me. I’d always rather work with really good material. You might as well start with an awesome plan and then in my mind you have less work to do,” Cochrane said.
“There are certain plays, I guess, like Death of a Salesman or Waiting for Godot or Romeo and Juliet where there’s a lot of preconceived notions of what the play is. But I knew there’s never been a production in Whitehorse (of The Cripple of Inishmaan.) In Canada we don’t know this play well so I wasn’t too worried about that.”
The Guild’s creation runs from Nov. 21 to Dec. 7, with a preview day on Nov. 20.
The play is set on a small island on the west coast of Ireland, circa 1934. One day a Hollywood director arrives in town looking to use the community in a new movie.
Lead “Cripple Billy” Claven – played by Roy Neilson – is a disabled teenager desperate for a role in the movie to escape the town and the people in it.
“Martin McDonagh is known for being a pretty fierce or vicious playwright, or at least creating fierce and vicious characters,” Cochrane said. “I think that’s his way as a writer to revealing a greater humanity. In order to have extreme cruelty you have to have extreme humanity balancing it out.”
That sensibility comes out at various points during the play, he said.
“They say some cruel things. Some really nasty, terrible things happen. The threat of some really nasty, horrible things is looming over every scene. So it’s got all that going for it. That generally makes for more fun in the theatre.”
Going back 80 years, to 1934, means some of the play’s humour may leave the audience wondering if it is socially acceptable to be laughing at some of the jokes, Cochrane admits.
“One of the challenges of this play, I guess, is our contemporary sensibility towards disabilities or sexism or racism or classism are so different,” he said.
“We’re 80 years removed from 1934. So I think that a lot of things in the play that seem cruel are not to them.”
Cochrane holds a BFA in acting from the University of Saskatchewan and an MFA in directing from the University of British Columbia. He has worked with theatre companies around the country, including most recently Vancouver’s Twenty Something Theatre’s critically praised Speech and Debate.
He said he’s always wanted to visit the North.
“In my late teens and early 20s it was very fashionable to work seasonally in Dawson. So a lot of my friends have done the Dawson thing. Some of them still live there. I have been hearing about the Yukon for a long time.”
He described the Inishmaan setting as “a tiny little island that didn’t get electricity until the 1970s.”
There’s something about stories set in remote places that resonates with Canadians, he said.
“As Canadians we all have a sense of isolation and a sense that you have to leave home and go somewhere and see the wide world. Most people end up coming back to where they started. This play is kind of like that, what does home mean? What does it mean to come of age or to make something of yourself in the world, and do you have to leave home to do that?”
“I can’t presume to speak for Yukoners, but I think there is probably something about a place this far away from the rest of civilization that will recognize that.”
Casting for the show was completed in September and completed in about 40 hours.
“I came up on a Monday and the Monday night we had auditions. We went to a pub and sorted out the callbacks and then on a Tuesday night we had the callbacks. We had it casted then and fortunately no one dropped out,” Cochrane said.
He called the assembled group a “mixture of old hat familiar Guild people with a few new ones.”
Along with Neilson the cast includes: Charlotte Courage, David Paquet, Graham Rudge, Mike Ivens, Mary Sloan, Bronwyn Jones, Kevin Kennedy and Dorothy Martin.
“We need nine actors and nobody is just a maid or a butler. Even the people who are only in two or three scenes have substantial chucks to do. There’s no hiding in this play, that’s part of the fun of it I think,” Cochrane said.
He hopes the audience will connect with the characters on the stage.
“It’s a good story well told and it gets me every time. When I think about the final moments of the play, even when I’m walking down the street, I get tears in my eyes. I hope people are open to spending a couple of hours with these characters and open to what happens, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Tickets are: $23 for Wednesday and Thursday and $25 on Friday and Saturday.
Contact Ashley Joannou at