When I was a a junior at Kenyon College my professors Tom Turgeon and Wendy Macleod taught a class called "Contemporary British Drama" which focused on 20th century playwrights from England. This was my first introduction to John Osborne, Shelagh Delaney, Pinter, and Martin McDonagh. We read The Cripple of Inishmaan in that class and I became hooked, in love with McDonagh's writing style, the voice of his characters, the unique humor somewhere between the Theatre of Cruelty (Artaud) and commedia, it all spoke to me. We then read The Pillowman and it only solidified McDonagh's genius for me, a world just as deep and complex, but set in the ether somewhere, not bound by geography. I read more of his work and fantasized about doing his shows, as most actors do when they read a play that has anything resembling a role in their range.
A couple years later, upon graduating, I moved to New York City to make a go of it and try my hand as an actor, having just received my Equity card as an ASM. As it is wont to do, NYC didn't extend me any sympathies, so I began to look for any opportunities I could muster to be nearer to the community. I happened to recall being told at Kenyon that another alum of ours was the Artistic Director for the Atlantic Theater Company, which I didn't know anything about. I looked them up, and not only were they a powerhouse Off-Broadway theatre with decades of awards and success, they were at that very time hosting the Druid Theatre's production of Cripple at the Linda Gross Theater. Druid, a famed Irish company, has worked closely with McDonagh over the years, presenting most of his early works for the first time, and this was their revival of the show, brought to NYC by Atlantic.
Having no in-road to speak of I searched through the Atlantic website for a way to make contact, and they couldn't have made it easier for me, I just had to click on Neil Pepe's name and voila! An email began with his address. I sent him my thoughts, a young actor from Kenyon, a student of the same teacher who had taught generations of us there (who would pass on a few years later after a lengthy battle with ALS) looking for something, anything to do involving the theatre. He responded quickly and asked me to come in and meet him, which I did, if I recall correctly toting a headshot in hand thinking somehow he'd cast me in their show and I'd be a made man. *Incidentally, I did audition for the understudy of Billy Claven at an EPA for their production, and did not get it.*
Neil was incredibly kind and generous, we spoke for a while and he offered to help me get an internship at the theatre, if there were availabilities. He also gave me two tickets to go see Cripple, which I snatched up immediately. I ended up taking that internship, in Development, which gave me a wealth of experience and knowledge about the operations of a theatre company, and put me in touch with some amazing people. It was while I was there that I helped my friend, Rachael, audition for grad school and was unexpectedly asked to apply, a story for another time. But out of all of that I can remember, almost more than anything else while I was there, the experience of seeing that incredible play for the first time. It was enlightening, hilarious, moving, and real. I had never seen theatre Off-Broadway at the time, and hadn't seen much on Broadway either, and I was euphoric at seeing those incredible words brought to life. I didn't know these actors, these designers, this director, I could only sit back and see it as it actually happened, and I'll never forget that feeling of possibility it aroused in me.
Flash forward several years and I had kept my eye out for The Cripple of Inishmaan whenever possible, but nothing ever really popped up. In grad school I took the free stage time I had in class to work on scenes from the show, and from another McDonagh play that should be produced more often, Lonesome West. I got my first taste of playing in that world and I liked it, I felt natural and alive in it, and the enjoyment of playing the massive waves in his writing translated directly to my classmates and teachers as an audience.
I was in a show called In the Secret Sea in spring of 2016 when I happened across an audition posting for The Cripple of Inishmaan at a place called Palm Beach Dramaworks. I had been in for an audition with them before, for Inge's Picnic, but that was it. Without needing to know more, I asked my agents to keep a special eye out for this audition, and followed up a few times after that to make sure I hadn't missed it. I heard they were interested in seeing me at one point, and never heard anything for months after. Then suddenly I got the audition call, about a week before the audition. I read the play again, memorized the lines, and revived my physicality from grad school work, with some tweaks I had decided upon based on an audition tape I had made of myself using Billy's monologues (I didn't look the part). *Incidentally #2, I used this character for an audition for St. Michael's Playhouse in 2012 and got a part from an EPA thanks to it, I've now worked there for several years.*
At the audition I re-met Kim, the Casting Director, and J. Barry Lewis, the director. I also ran into some acquaintances from The Irish Repertory Theatre, where I had worked in 2015 for my first time Off-Broadway, the community of people doing Irish theatre in New York being quite connected. I did the scene a few times with some of these folks, and continued to play, J. Barry helping me along where needed, but not offering many notes to me specifically. I felt good about the audition, and as I was leaving J. Barry called me back in and asked if I knew about Palm Beach Dramaworks (at that point I had also submitted for the show immediately preceding Cripple in the 2016-17 season, Stoppard's Arcadia), and whether I could sustain the physicality and the wheeze. He also told me I was too old for the show on paper, but that it didn't seem to matter when I got up to do the part. As I left he told me I'd be getting called back for the next day to work with it some more.
When I got to the callback I was feeling strong, and then walked in to a group of guys all vying for the same role. At the first audition it had been mostly people reading for Babbybobby, so this was a new group. But the best you can do is what you know, so I prepared to go in, trying hard to nail the physicality and revisit what I had learned from working on the play in grad school. After playing a few times, J. Barry told me they had seen a lot of people for the role and I was the first that really understood what the play was about, stylistically and emotionally. I took that as a good sign and went on my way. The call came a few days later and I got the part, I was ecstatic.
I didn't know what to expect from a new place when coming to Palm Beach. I'd never been to the area, didn't know the cast or crew, had never been to the theatre or seen their work. Any reservations I had were lifted within the first few moments of seeing how well they do things at PBD. We rehearsed, and as we rehearsed J. Barry made sure to allow time for us all to get to know each other and just gas. As I worked with him one on one he allowed me to explore, supported me fully in my work and pushed me to be better in it. A few days before opening we weren't happy with a monologue in the show and I spent 40 minutes going over it in the incoming tide of Delray Beach, hoping the rhythms of the water would replace my own ingrained ones I couldn't seem to shake. The next day we rehearsed it and the monologue landed, finally. A weight was lifted from my shoulders and I finally felt ready to play, to explore every beat and moment, and to work with an audience to find the light and dark in the play.
Now here we are, a few weeks in and a few days from closing and I am overwhelmed with sadness at seeing this production end. The people, the work, the environment have been the best I've ever experienced, and I have never been more proud of a show. Audiences are surprised every night by how deeply they are moved by a play that masquerades itself at times as an Irish farce, and we've had reviews popping up every couple days lauding the entire production and urging audiences to see it. I don't know about all of that, but what I do know is that I will forever be grateful to have been part of something so strong. I have waited over a decade now for this opportunity, one I didn't even know I wanted to badly, and now that it is come and almost gone I can only offer my thanks and this little story.