‘Cripple of Inishmaan’ cast prepares for performance, explores Irish dialect

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Before jumping into rehearsals, Director Kat Cordes leads the cast of the “Cripple of Inishmaan” through a series of vocal and physical warm ups. The actors stretch their mouths and practice vocalizing distinct Irish accents for the characters, so each line is dictated perfectly and maintained throughout the play, especially during their intense egg-fighting scene. 

“The Cripple of Inishmaan” is a dark comedy set on the small Aran Islands community of Inishmaan off the Western Coast of Ireland in 1934. The characters hear about a Hollywood film crew’s arrival in the neighboring island of Inishmore to make a documentary about life on the islands. The play explores how “Cripple” Billy Claven attempts to be part of the film to escape from his mundane life. 

For the cast of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” rehearsals for the Winter Play were a lot more than just memorizing lines and blocking. Because the play takes place in Ireland in 1934, actors were required to learn a dialect specific to the geographical location, time period and their individual character quirks. 

Cordes held fundamental dialect classes and workshops that focused on phonetics and origin of the accent. She encouraged the actors to practice with the dialect and listen to math teacher Paul McGee, a native Irish speaker. 

“People need to feel the musculature of their mouth change in this new way,” Cordes said. “You have to get it into your ears, mouth and body—otherwise how are you supposed to change?”

In addition to tackling accents, each of the actors tackled developing their characters. Junior Jack Link plays Billy Claven, who suffers from cerebral palsy, leaving him with only one functioning arm and leg. To accurately portray the physicality of his crippled character, Link read through many medical journals about the diagnosis and physical symptoms of Billy’s condition while exploring the character’s personality. 

“Billy subverts the stereotype of the ‘happy-go-lucky’ Irishman,” Link said. “As the play progresses, he becomes a lot more nuanced and an interesting character to portray.” 

Besides Billy, each of the characters has their own offbeat charm and quirks. Senior Marina Ring plays Kate, who has a psychotic breakdown and talks to stones. Ring originally had difficulty trying to accurately play her eccentric role while staying true to character. 

“You just have to embrace it, and just go for it,” Ring said. “It’s fun once you get into it. The next hardest part was keeping myself from laughing every time I collapsed on the floor.”

Another obstacle that the actors had to overcome was mastering comedic timing due to the play’s abundance of sneaky quips and clever sarcasm.

“Comedic timing is very precise and very particular, and if an actor doesn’t feel it out correctly, the jokes don’t work,” Cordes said. 

Cordes chose the play out of her appreciation for the playwright, Martin McDoughal, and his use of dark humor with character development as the play progresses. 

I love how biting his humor is, I love that his plays aren’t bogged down with philosophical questions and I love the transformations that happen within characters,” Cordes said.