Max is the adopted brother of the deeply neurotic Suzanna, who’s studying psychology and who loves him like a sister (sort of). The two of them have a one-night stand at the close of scene one. By the start of scene two, Suzanna has married a dope, Andrew, who’s a writer (sort of). She’s also been grieving for her father, who died in financial trouble and may have been gay. Her indomitable mother, the sharp-tongued Susan—who’s the one sensible figure in the play—is suffering from muscular dystrophy, and with undue haste has taken a shady young lover who ends up in jail to be bailed out, perhaps, by Max.
Strictly speaking, none of this makes much sense (or pretends to). Ms. Gionfriddo’s knee-jerk one-liners struck me as too hit-or-miss. “Be careful chasing goodness. Goodness and incompetence often go hand in hand in men” is one of her wittier riffs. But what of this joke that begs for an automatic laugh (and got one)? “No one respects a woman who forgives infidelity. It kept Hillary Clinton from becoming president.” (It did?)
The talky plot of Becky Shaw lurches harmlessly from episode to episode. (Ms. Gionfriddo is a writer-producer of Law & Order.) But the one big thing that rings most unlikely is in the motor that propels the entire play: a blind date between pathetic, baleful Becky and the utterly uninterested, contemptuous Max. It’s an unbelievably foolish match arranged by dimwits, and it produces the funniest line of the evening.
“What would you like, Max?” the exasperated Becky asks him eventually.
“I would like you to try harder next time to commit suicide,” he replies.
IT’S GOOD NEWS that the Druid Theatre Company’s smashing revival of Martin McDonagh’s gothic farce The Cripple of Inishmaan (1997) has extended its run at the Linda Gross Theater through March 1. While we might argue that its plot is just as messily incredible as Becky Shaw’s, Mr. McDonagh’s mad daring is of a higher, scintillating order—some would say the highest—provided you have a taste for liberating, darkly Irish humor, which you surely do.
The Cripple of Inishmaan isn’t the first play Mr. McDonagh wrote, but when it was staged by Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre a decade ago, it was the first of his black rural comedies I’d seen. It astonished me. (It still does.) Its tale of the crippled boy Billy of blighted Inishmaan who auditions for the role of a cripple in a Hollywood movie is a brutally funny dissection of romantic Irish myths and the tragedy of fate.
True, the famously precocious playwright skirts patronizing the Irish as picaresque drunks and dim, adorably backward sods For Export Only (to the Promised Land of the West End and Broadway). What else is new? It’s what postmodern chroniclers of Ireland like Martin McDonagh do. But nobody does it with more uncompromisingly macabre glee.
He’s a tall-story specialist at stony heart. Though the play’s character known as Robert Flaherty is based—very loosely based—on the real-life Robert Flaherty, the pioneering documentary filmmaker who made Man of Aran (1934), about “primitive” Irish life, Mr. McDonagh’s eccentric cast of characters are more like their own inventions. They’re storytellers, in effect, of their own desperate lives.
A 1998 production of The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Public Theatre was sadly botched. Garry Hynes’s first-rate staging redeems its reputation, with Aaron Monaghan superb as Billy.