If you think Los Angeles is an unkind city, you should try Inishmaan, the seemingly quaint and picturesque Irish village setting of Martin McDonagh's compelling drama. There, the villagers' otherwise adorable eccentricities have abraded on each other to the point of sparking near-psychotic frustration. By rights, the play should be a sentimental tale, but McDonagh's ferocious writing artfully skewers expectations of stereotypes, instead crafting a character-driven toxic dance of hope and despair. In this tiny island town, circa 1934, young orphan Crippled Billy (Tadhg Murphy) has been raised by two spinster "aunties" (Dearbhla Molloy and Ingrid Craigie), following his parents' tragic death at sea years ago. Within his claustrophobic and incredibly impoverished community, Crippled Billy's dreams have not gone much further than the hope of a kiss from bad-tempered (and possibly psychotic) town floozy Slippy Helen (Clare Dunne), the Egg Man's assistant. However, when Hollywood moviemakers arrive on a nearby island to make a film about the "real" Ireland, Crippled Billy pulls out the stops to become a star though the results of his scheme take an unexpectedly tragic turn. McDonagh's gorgeously lyrical dialogue is full of one-liners, quirky wit and biting irony, while also capturing the understated sorrow of people who believe life is nothing but suffering punctuated by loss. Like the writing, director Garry Hynes' taut, often explosive yet intimate staging boasts both impeccable comic timing and heartrending pathos often within a few seconds of each other. Galway's Druid Theatre Company cast is extraordinary, crafting an ensemble of small-village archetypes who appear lovable at first but whose seething undercurrents of spite and malice become all too evident. Murphy offers a sweet and idealistic turn as Crippled Billy, but the supporting figures are startlingly multidimensional as well, from Craigie's tough Aunt Kate to Dunne's abjectly terrifying Helen, and including Dermot Crowley in a hilarious, towering turn as the town's reprehensible gossip. A Druid Theatre Company and Center Theatre Group presentation. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m., thru May 1. (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org.
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 6:30 p.m. Starts: April 6. Continues through May 1, 2011