Before he began directing films and achieving global acclaim — including nine Oscar nominations for his most recent project, “The Banshees of Inisherin” — Martin McDonagh got his start writing plays.

Fans of the writer’s dark and brooding comedies have the opportunity to see one of his early works, “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” live in Fort Worth.

Theatre Wesleyan‘s student-led production is running through Feb. 26 at the Thad Smotherman Theatre, 1205 Binkley St.

“Everyone involved in this show has put in a lot of heart and soul into this, and I am personally very proud to show this to the rest of the world,” senior Ethan Brandt, the show’s director, said. 

If you go

What: Theatre Wesleyan’s production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan”
Times:
7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Dates:
Feb. 23-26
Location:
Thad Smotherman Theatre
Law Sone Fine Arts Center
1205 Binkley Street
Fort Worth, 76105
Tickets:
$5-10. More info here.

The decision to stage this production was made long before the buzz of award season started building, but Theatre Wesleyan hopes that some of that excitement will translate to local audiences.

The production had its debut Feb. 16. Wesleyan professor and Theatre Chair Joe Brown said that the name recognition has made a difference in ticket sales already.

“I know that we’re getting people due to the (film) who are coming to see it because they’re curious,” he said. “You either like that movie or you don’t.”

The acerbic, dark humor can be a draw to some and a turnoff to others. Still, McDonagh’s lengthy list of industry awards and nominations proves that there is a strong appetite for his work.

“We always talk about, ‘How do we get butts in the seats? And how do we get a younger audience?’ because the theater audience in Fort Worth and season ticket holders are aging out,” Brown said.

As they planned the season, Theatre Wesleyan focused on themes of diversity, equity and inclusion. But they earned national headlines in the fall after the school decided to shut down production of a play about the Civil Rights era written by Carlyle Brown, a Black playwright, that included racist epithets in the script.

The title of the current production can also feel a bit jarring in 2023, which is something the cast and crew discussed in-depth early in the process.

Abigale Hunt plays the role of Kate and also was an assistant costume designer. She said that the power of language is an important piece of the play, a fact that becomes clear as the plot unfolds on stage. 

“It’s been an interesting thing to juggle … Acknowledging the fact that it’s not a kind word, but there’s a reason why such a knowledgeable person like Martin McDonagh used this word in his play (for) historical accuracy,” the junior said.

Hunter Kleinschmidt plays Billy, the lead character who was born with cerebral palsy and suffers from partial paralysis on the left side of his body.

Billy fights against the stereotypes and expectations put on him because of the physical conditions he was born with, while also pointing out everyone on the island has limitations — his just happen to be visible.

“I am not someone who is disabled, nor have I suffered from any illness like (Billy),” Kleinschmidt said. “We have to be honest and do the research to portray things in a light that calls attention to it, but also pays respect to it.”

Fellow cast member Gianina Lambert takes a similar analytical approach to the role of Eileen, who helped care for Billy after he was abandoned by his birth parents as a baby.

The senior said that even with the preparation and thought that goes into every movement on the stage, each performance is unique. 

“Theater is truly magical in the fact that it’s different every time you come,” Lambert said. “Even if you see the same (show) the performance is never the same.” 

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta FornoffArts & Culture Editor

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...