When Tristan Riley takes the stage Feb. 1 in the One Time Players’ debut of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” it will be his first time in a title role.
“I am ready,” he said during a recent dress rehearsal at Port Townsend High School. “I am just working with the rest of the actors, going through the scenes and really just trying to get into the mindset of the character. I am doing everything I can to try and get inside of Billy’s mind.”
The One Time Players are a troupe of adult thespians who put on shows in Jefferson County.
Riley portrays Billy Claven, a disabled resident of the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland.
“This island is not highly populated,” director David Hillman said. “It is very rural. It is pretty harsh conditions, rough seas, all of that. This takes place in the 1930s. The basic setting is that there is a guy who is sort of like the news teller. He goes from house to house, trying to find out what is going on. He exacts prices from people for providing his services.”
At the onset of the play, Johnnypateenmike, portrayed by David Wayne Johnson, provides the extra juicy news that Robert Flaherty, a documentary filmmaker from Hollywood, will be filming on a neighboring island.
“The young people want to go over and be in the movie,” Hillman said.
The “Cripple of Inishmaan” is based on the book of the same title by Martin McDonagh.
“McDonagh is known for combining really dark stuff with comedy,” Hillman said. “I would say this is not one of his darkest. This is more on the lighter side of him.”
Hillman said he was drawn to the play by its language, its humor and its view of life.
“In McDonagh’s fable of a not-so-distant time and place, one where the residents have a tendency to speak their minds, the contradictions inherent in being human come into stark relief,” Hillman said. “Here, love and prejudice exist side by side. They are in the air the islanders breathe. And here, too, we see our tendency to hope, to try, even though nothing is under our control.”
The cast includes Riley; Jennifer Nielsen, longtime director of the Port Townsend High School drama program; and theater veterans Michelle Hensel, Johnson, Rowan Powell, Rose Burt, Bodie LaBrie, Jim Guthrie and Sally Talbert.
For the cast members, speaking with an Irish accent does not come easily.
“You know, it’s kind of challenging,” said Burt, who portrays Helen McCormick, Billy’s love interest. “It helps because everybody else is doing it, too. So once you are in a group of everybody doing the voice, then it comes more naturally, I think.”
And while the accents indeed are convincing, Burt said she would feel self-conscious if the audience were full of visitors from Ireland.
“I would say if any Irish person wants to come see it, they just have to know it might be a little rough,” she said with a lighthearted laugh. “We are doing our best.”
Portraying Helen, a fiery high-tempered Irish lass, has been a learning experience for Burt.
“She is pretty mean, but then you find out later that maybe she is an OK person,” Burt said.
Being mean is “way out of my comfort zone because I tend to be more of a soft-spoken, passive individual, and Helen is very aggressive,” Burt said. “It has been probably good for me, and (increases) my range as a human being.”
Riley also has been working hard to become his character.
“I’ve just researched the character a lot, read the play, looked at what life was like on the Aran Islands back in the 1930s, and done research on what his disability might have been, what the script suggests, and trying to understand what it would be like to be under those circumstances in that situation,” Riley said. “I have worked with my co-stars and our relationships as much as possible.”
Ready for their debut
Hillman said his cast and crew are looking forward to performing in front of an audience.
“They are great,” he said. “We have had some really good rehearsals the last couple of weeks. I am very optimistic. Once an audience comes in, everything raises to another level. It is always interesting to see that, especially with a comedy where (the audience) will be reacting to stuff. We are so used to it, saying the same lines over and over. What is it going to be like for people who don’t know it?”
Riley is thankful to Hillman and the cast for helping him succeed in the title role.
“David has been great,” Riley said. “I know he put a lot of faith in me with my little experience, and I am so glad I was able to get this part, and everyone has been very supportive. A lot of these people have been doing theater for a lot longer than me. I have just been so grateful for everyone being there for me and all their support. I just hope to make them proud. Come and see the play if you can, and I hope you have a good time.”
Proceeds from the all-volunteer production will help fund a PTHS drama club field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in June, Hillman said.
The trip will cost about $10,000, which will include housing, tickets to plays, a backstage tour, transportation and food. Students will see six plays including “Macbeth,” “As You Like It,” “Hairspray” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
To make a donation, contact the high school office at 360-379-4520 or Nielsen at 360-643-3799.
Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Feb. 1-16, as well as a matinee at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 10. All performances are at the PTHS auditorium.
Tickets are $10 and are available at the door. No one will be turned away for inability to pay. For more information, call 360-385-6207 or visit onetimeplayers.org.