The best gossip on Broadway these days is nothing you can read in the tabloids. You’ll have to hear it in person, and believe me, you’ll want to. This is very deep dish — layered with malice and kindness, truth and conjecture, and all the mixed motives that make human beings such endlessly intriguing subjects of speculation.
The forum for this fascinating tittle-tattle is the Cort Theater, where Michael Grandage’s splendid production of Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan” opened on Sunday night. By the way — and wouldn’t you know? — there’s a movie star involved, as there often is when a Broadway show generates much talk.
But the star in question, Daniel Radcliffe, isn’t here just to flex his charisma for fans. In the title role of this glimmeringly dark comedy from 1996, Mr. Radcliffe — the boy wizard in the immensely successful “Harry Potter” movie franchise — is entirely convincing as the boy who is regarded as least likely to succeed at pretty much anything in his God-forsaken rural Irish town.
Of course, for a while rumor has it — and rumor has a lot in this play — that Mr. Radcliffe’s character, known as Cripple Billy, is on his way to becoming the toast of Hollywood. But don’t believe everything you hear in Inishmaan.
That includes the locally sourced stories, like the one about the two guys who are feuding over the mysterious murders of a goose and a cat. In Mr. McDonagh’s world, gossip is as unreliable as life itself, which somehow makes it all the more irresistible.
This exotic visitation is a godsend. Inishmaan is the kind of a place where a boy like Billy passes the hours by staring at cows. This idle pursuit leads to surprisingly lively discussions among his fellow townspeople. But then from the moment he was born, with an irrevocably gnarled left arm and leg, Billy has been a fertile topic of conversation.
For one thing, there’s the mystery of his parents, who are said to have drowned themselves shortly after his birth. Billy has been raised by Eileen and Kate Osbourne (Gillian Hanna and Ingrid Craigie, both wonderful), who are forever fretting about the future of their much-loved but unlovable 17-year-old lad. He is, alas, starting to take an interest in girls, specifically the hot-tempered Helen McCormick (Sarah Greene, in a blissfully fiery performance).
This greatly perplexes Bartley, whose answer is unrepentant: “But it’s awfully funny.” He’s right, of course. It is. This gorgeously realized production has the wisdom to let us laugh until it hurts.