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Released September 18, 2003

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HATTIESBURG - The Department of Theatre and Dance at The University of Southern Mississippi will open its 2003-2004 season Oct. 2 with Martin McDonagh's "The Cripple of Inishmaan" at the Mannoni Performing Arts Center. The play is a work of dark humor and deep sorrow - a combination that is bleak, yet painstakingly funny and full of sudden reversals.

The plot centers on the efforts of a neglected and derided young man, Billy, to escape the remote island off the west coast of Ireland where he was raised. "Cripple Billy" has suffered through a disability all of his 19 years. In 1934, the good people of Inishmaan learn that Hollywood director Robert Flaherty is coming to a neighboring island to film a documentary. No one is more intrigued than young Billy, and he sees his chance to meet the director and possibly escape his dreary existence.

The setting for McDonagh's play is a real place with a rich and fascinating history. Inishmaan, with a population of 150, is one of three Aran Islands located 30 miles west of Galway. Situated between Inishmore ("Big Island") and Inisheer ("East Island"), Inishmaan ("Middle Island") is a rocky, isolated landmass little more than three miles wide. Its inhabitants still use, rather uniquely, the ancient Irish dialect (Gaelic) mixed with the more predominant English.

"The thing that captivated me about the show was the language," said Larry Mullican, professor of theater at Southern Miss and director of the production. "I get a sense of Ireland in the sounds of the language. As we have rehearsed, the language has come to life, and it has been an exciting experience. The script, although not a poem, brings the locale's poetic images to life."

McDonagh, practically a newcomer in contemporary theater, has made a significant impact in the theater world. Born in 1971 to expatriate Irish parents, he left school at 16 and spent five years writing radio scripts and collecting rejection notices until Australian stations picked up two of his scripts. He spent eight days writing his first play, the award-winning "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" (1996). By the time the play was first produced in London in 1997, McDonagh was 27 and had four plays showing simultaneously in London - an accomplishment that few, if any, writers have achieved.

Intriguingly, all his plays have been set in west Ireland. McDonagh actually grew up in Camberwell, a district in south London. His only exposure to his Irish background was summer vacations spent in Galway.

As with all good Irish, the storytelling tradition runs deep in McDonagh, but the Irish language patterns and characterizations that are so central to his work had to be discovered through interactions with his extended family.

"One of Inishmaan's claims to fame is that it is one of the few places left in Ireland where Gaelic is still spoken, and with an accent so unsullied that scholars flock there to study the language," Mullican said. "One article I read in preparing for the show claimed that more anthropologists and sociologists have visited Inishmaan than have visited the continent of Africa.

"Also we are fortunate to have had our colleague, Monica Hayes, visit Inishmaan this summer. While there, she taped her observations of the island and its people and has been a real asset to us in preparing for this production. "

"The Cripple of Inishmaan" (1996) is the first play of McDonagh's second trilogy of plays that includes two other plays, "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and "The Banshees of Inisheer." The Royal National Theatre in London, which offered McDonagh the position of resident playwright, first produced "The Cripple of Inishmaan." It then successfully moved to New York, where it opened at the Public Theatre in April of 1998 and immediately sold out its run.

This Southern Miss production will serve as its entry in the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF), first traveling to the state festival after the production closes in Hattiesburg, with hopes of being invited to the Southeast regional festival in February.

Within the last nine years, two productions from Southern Miss, "Catfish Moon" and "The Rimers of Eldritch," have been so successful in ACTF that each were invited to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Only a handful of colleges or universities have been so honored to receive multiple invitations in such a short span of time.

Evening performances Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 8-10 begin at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 12 in the Mannoni Performing Arts Center auditorium. Individual show tickets are $10 for regular admission, $8 for senior citizens and Southern Miss faculty and staff, and $6 for students.

For tickets call the Southern Miss Ticket Office at (601) 266-5418 or 800-844-8425. Order online at Tickets may be purchased at the theater box office one hour prior to curtain time for each performance.



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April 20, 2004 4:48 PM