Handicaps at Work/ on Stage

It’s  my dream come true, I’m reviewing a performance by Harry Potter.

I mean, by Harry Potter ACTOR, Daniel Radcliffe, as the lead character in Martin McDonagh’s play, ‘The Cripple of Inishmaan’.

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Quick summary :

Inishmaan is one of three Aran islands off the western coast of Ireland. The fictionalized action of the play is based ont he real-life occasion of director Robert J. Flaherty coming to the neighboring island of Inishmore to make his 1934 documentary, The Man of Aran. The play examines an ordinary coming-of-age in extraordinary circumstance. – Director, Michael Grandage

It’s a small but wildly characterized play, fraught with everything I love, twists and turns, gossip, black humor, ambitions, secrets, a touch of crazy and a small peppering of romance (sounds like a self-description, no?).


Radcliffe stars as the town cripple, a boy orphaned by drowned parents and raised by two fussy, flustered, and funny aunts played by Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie. The aunts and Billy are visited by the town gossip, Johnnypateenmike (no that’s not a typo) played by Pat Shortt and told that auditions for a Hollywood film are happening at a nearby island.  Cripple-Billy- as he’s known around town- fakes a letter and diagnosis of tuberculosis to convince a boat-owning local to take him along with the handsome and dumb Bartley McCormick played by Conor MacNeill and his beautiful, flirty, takes-no-prisoners sister Helen, played by Sarah Greene. I won’t spoil anymore in case anyone sees it but a few questions are: does he get the role in the film? Is the tuberculosis real or fake? Why did his parents die- was it suicide or accident and how was Billy saved?

I had never heard of the play before going to see it, and yet, while watching it something felt familiar.

No, it was not the Irish accent from Radcliffe, nor his odd but possibly accurate portrayal of cerebral palsy in the 1930’s. There were just certain ways he would look at a character that seemed exactly the same as expressions I remember from the Harry Potter films that then also, seemed a little forced. Perhaps those looks are even more of a crutch than the shabby piece of wood he clutched while hobbling around the stage.

I wonder if the handicap at work here is much less about actual physical capability but more the perception from others that they can’t be overcome. For his character, does anyone believe Billy capable of getting the role, the girl, saving the day? Do I, as  a not-that-big-of-a-fan-of-his-acting-in-film give him a chance or am I actively looking for the so-called handicaps that bothered me previously?

More Performer Stereotypes explained by Harry Potter here

It’s very possible I’m about to say something that people besides professional dancers will understand and maybe even have felt themselves..

I’m willing to bet we’ve all been exactly where I’m putting poor Potter..(I mean, Radcliffe); the position of being remembered for who you were, not seen for who you are, what you can do, in the here-and-now. You’re stuck wondering, what am I not doing, doing wrong, why do they have this impression of me, why am I not being chosen, noticed, promoted? You feel as if you’re ready and qualified to take on something exciting or important to you and it seems no one else is thinking of you that way, or even thinking of you at all.

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I am lucky to teach for a fantastic arts center here in St. Louis and a few of my bosses are my former teachers. I sometimes wonder if this is helpful as we already have a long history and good relationship, or a hinderance; as if they won’t be able to see me as a responsible adult with experience and credentials. I worry they may always see me as the chatty twelve-year old, the girl who struggled with diabetes and being healthy, or the idiot that got lost on my first time driving to the studio I had been attending for over ten years. (My driving ability is admittedly one of my biggest handicaps. In this, there is no misconstrued perception.)


The show itself was wonderful but something stopped it just shy or overcoming the title, ‘comedy’ or even the feeling of a fable or caricature. Hard to tell if the biggest handicap- in this play and in other parts of life- is our own actual abilities holding us back, the favored-yet-weak crutches we use to hide them, or a perception of these abilities that just can’t be fixed.

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2 thoughts on “Handicaps at Work/ on Stage

  1. Lately I have heard a lot of frustration over able-bodied actors playing handicaped roles and the lack of representation for those with physical handicaps. Was RJ Mitte from Breaking Bad busy that weekend? I guess Radcliffe does have dyspraxia so I suppose that is something, but why not cast an actor with the same condition as the character? There are two interesting Ted Talks I’ve seen lately regarding physical handicap, both of which I’d recommend: http://www.ted.com/talks/maysoon_zayid_i_got_99_problems_palsy_is_just_one and http://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much

    • I suppose the argument is that it’s an actors duty to become a character including their physical ailments and abilites. Actions stars are cast not only for their acting chops but because they are able to be convincing as black belts, etc. It’s the same as films such as center stage, black swan using actresses as ballerinas. It’s their job to be convincing. My problem with Radcliffe was more in line-delivery and facial expression than his representation of any particular handicap. That being said, I have a big crush on RJ Mitte and would have been in full support of seeing him instead. Also to consider, Mitte is a film/television actor which is a totally different beast than live theater.

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