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"The Cripple of Inishmaan" signals Theatre IV's triumphant return to adult theater. 

Limping Towards Greatness

In "The Cripple of Inishmaan," the wryly comic play that recently opened in Theatre IV's Little Theatre, a character proclaims that acting isn't really work because "it's only talking." Well, there is some excellent talking going in this production, which marks the triumphant return of Theatre IV to adult theater. Virginia's largest theater company hasn't done a grown-up play in more than a year, but "Cripple" proves that it is still at the top of its game. With accomplished director Keri Wormald at the helm, this production is a burly mixture of comedy, tragedy, farce and fancy that remains wholly original — and sometimes brutally unsentimental — even when it travels through familiar territory.

The cripple of the title is young Billy Claven (Robbie Winston), known to everyone on the small Irish island of Inishmaan as "Cripple Billy." Born with a deformed arm and a bad leg, Billy lives with his "aunties," Kate (Jolene Carroll) and Eileen (Bridget Gethins), who take him in after his parents apparently commit suicide. It's 1934 and the island is abuzz because a Hollywood producer is shooting a movie on the next island over. In a recurring joke, the islanders remark, "Ireland can't be such a bad place if they want to film a moving picture here."

Billy tricks a local fisherman, BabbyBobby (Robert Gray), into taking him over to where the film is being made. The producer ends up taking Billy back to America for a screen test but we don't see much of that adventure. Instead, the play shows the effect Billy's departure has on the islanders and the even bigger changes that occur when Billy eventually comes back.

Playwright Martin McDonagh, the dark genius behind the Broadway hit "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," fills "Cripple" with a half-dozen captivating characters and Wormald's cast inhabits them adroitly. But it is the way the cast members play off each other that is even more impressive than the individual performances. Winston does a fine job in his portrayal of Billy, and Gray turns in a serviceable performance as BabbyBobby. But in the dynamic scene where Billy convinces BabbyBobby to take him in his boat, both actors do exquisite work, becoming greater than the sum of their parts.

As the aunties, Carroll and Gethins also make an appealing pair, stopping just short of quaint. Another winning duo consists of Helen McCormick (Jill Bari Steinberg) and her brother Bartley (Peter Schmidt). Helen could be a potential love interest for Billy, but she is downright mean, and her somewhat dim brother is the recipient of much of her cruelty. Steinberg plays Helen with an intimidating swagger that contrasts beautifully with Schimdt's unkempt simpleness.

Set designer Czerton Lim effectively evokes a small-town country store with his nicely detailed rustic set. Recognition should also be given to dialect coach Colum Toybin as most (though not all) cast members maintain a believable Irish brogue. And Wormald's own sound design, replete with strains of Irish fiddle tunes, keeps the mood anchored in the land of the Blarney Stone. Hey, Ireland can't be such a bad place if the plays about it are as good as "The Cripple of
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