'The Cripple of Inishmaan' review: Daniel Radcliffe excels

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Actor Daniel Radcliffe during the Broadway opening night

Actor Daniel Radcliffe during the Broadway opening night of "The Cripple Of Inishmaan" at the Cort Theatre on April 20, 2014 in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Toth

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Never let it be said that Daniel Radclifffe panders - not to expectations of Hollywood glitz nor, especially, to his Harry Potter fan base.

Here he is, back on Broadway after his daring 2008 New York debut in "Equus" and his equally courageous, in a different way, 2011 musical-comedy turn in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." And Daniel Radcliffe is again wonderful, a low-key company player, as the sweet tragic figure, Cripple Billy, born virtually paralyzed on one side and hopping around the rocky, cartoon-Irish gothic landscape in a delightfully deadpan revival of Martin McDonagh's 1996 "The Cripple of Inishmaan."

Billy is not merely crippled and orphaned, but he has what's described as a "bit of a wheeze," and there's a mystery about the drowning death of his parents. Oh, he also stares at cows. He is so bored and lonely on the remote island of Inishmaan that he runs off to Hollywood to do a screen test for a film -- called here by everyone a "fill-em" -- about the locals.

This is New York's third production of McDonagh's incorrigibly rude and gently shrewd satire, inspired by the real 1934 visit of Hollywood director Robert Flaherty to make the silent movie, "Man of Aran." This "Cripple," a London import, is the first to get a Broadway showcase.

Michael Grandage, the Tony-winning director of "Red," directs a lovely cast in the gleeful poetry of outcast inhumanity. Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna are blissfully dim as Billy's loving maiden aunties. One talks to rocks when nervous. Pat Shortt is perfectly irritating as the town snoop, a man called Johnnypateenmike, who recites gossip about sheep deformities from house to house under the guise of journalism. Sarah Greene captures both the terror of the town hellion and her appeal.

The play is subtler than McDonagh's more melodramatic hit gore-fests, especially "The Beauty Queen of Leenane." The worst these townfolk do -- except for the blunt insults -- is "peg" one another with stones and break raw eggs on unsuspecting heads. The work also has none of the political chill of his masterwork, "The Pillowman." He seems here to be both satirizing and celebrating the cliches about primitive Ireland and primal Hollywood, sending up the cruelties and seductions of the parallel universes as mutually exploitable pleasures. How right to have a real movie star as its heart.

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WHAT "The Cripple of Inishmaan"

WHERE Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

INFO $27-$152; 212-239-6200; crippleofinishmaan.com

BOTTOM LINE Daniel Radcliffe is lovely as a sweet cripple in a rude satire.

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