Feb. 22 2012 12:00 AM

Edward O'Ryan spent years preparing for his role in the Irish black comedy 'The Cripple of Inishmaan'


It’s common to hear actors complaining that they don’t get as much work as they’d like. That’s not Edward O’Ryan’s problem, however. 

In the past two years, the Michigan State University graduate student has appeared in — take a deep breath now — “The Gingerbread House” at Lansing Community College, “The Beaux’ Strategem,” “You Can’t Take It With You,”  “Happy Holy Days” and “As You Like It” at MSU, “Good Boys and True” at the Renegade Theatre Festival and “The Drunken City,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Blithe Spirit” at Summer Circle Theatre.

In his spare time, he won a Pulsar Award for featured actor in a play for his performance as a suspected-thug-turned-unhappy-husband in Williamston Theatre’s “While We Were Bowling,” and he created the “Commedia Project” that served as the curtain-raiser for several shows at last year’s Summer Circle Theatre.

If this schedule has taken a toll on O’Ryan (who turns 27 next month), it doesn’t show.

“There are still so many things I’d love to do,” O’Ryan said, with a smile. “Every time I see an audition notice, I think, ‘Can I squeeze that in?’”

O’Ryan’s next part, playing the title character in Martin McDonagh’s offbeat comedy “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” is one he’s been waiting for ever since he read the play 10 years ago.

John Lepard, who directed O´Ryan in “You Can’t Take It With You” and “While We Were Bowling,” says he´s also looking forward to seeing O´Ryan at work.

“I have cast him in two shows, and he made very bold physical choices for both of them,”  Lepard wrote in an e-mail. 

Rob Roznowski, MSU´s head of acting and directing, worked with O´Ryan on “Good Boys and True,” The Drunken City” and “Happy Holy Days,” and calls O´Ryan “one of the funniest people I know.”

Roznowksi got an early look at “Cripple,” and he´s impressed.

“His generous good nature affects every performance and his warped view of the world is present in everything he does,” Roznowski said. “It is especially on display in ´Cripple.´”

The MSU Theatre production opens Thursday.

“My character is on the outskirts of his own community — he’s named Billy, but everyone calls him Cripple Billy and no one takes him seriously,” O’Ryan said.

O’Ryan certainly did: Billy is his thesis role, and he prepared for it by making multiple trips to Ireland over the past five years, including traveling to the island of Inishmaan last year.

“It’s very small, maybe the size of (MSU’s) campus — no, smaller,” he said. “But it has a terrible beauty to it, a savage beauty..”

The natives speak Irish more often than they do English, and O’Ryan spent part of his three-day stay in Inishmaan recording their voices. He’s also the dialect coach for “Inishmaan,” which is directed by Ann Folino White.

O’Ryan’s fascination with the Emerald Isle dates back to his undergraduate days at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, where he double-majored in Irish studies and theater. He also studied drama at Carlow College in Carlow, Ireland, although he wasn’t performing the work of a native playwright like Sean O’Casey or Brian Friel.

“We worked on ‘The Crucible’ there,” he said, referring to Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem Witch Trials.

“I know, right? Ironic.”

Still, the experience was quite enlightening.

“I’m not saying an expert on the cultural psyche, but I have done a lot of research on the struggles that have gone on there, and the people of Inishmaan are marginalized by their own culture.”

The outside world got its first in-depth look at life on the Aran Islands in director Robert J. Flaherty’s 1934 film “Man of Aran,” a “docudrama” made before that term existed.

The filming of “Aran” is a major plot point in McDonagh’s play: Billy, who is obsessed with the magic of moviemaking, is determined to somehow get a role in the production.

O’Ryan is also intrigued by film, which is one of the reasons he’s moving to Los Angeles this summer. Before that, he’ll star in a one-man show, Ronan Noone’s “The Atheist,” in May at MSU, playing amoral yellow-journalist Augustine Early.

It’s a gig he landed after “Strategem” director Edward Daranyi — an assistant director at Stratford Shakespeare Festival — encouraged O’Ryan to write a grant to do the show; O’Ryan and Daranyi are collaborating on the project.

After months of perfecting his Welsh accent for “Strategem” and his Irish dialect for “Inishmaan,” O’Ryan hoped “The Atheist” would be a change of pace.

“Maybe I’ll get to use my own voice for that,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to use my own voice since ‘Gingerbread House.’ No, wait — (Early) has got a Kansas accent.”

O’Ryan sighed. “I’m screwed.”