|Christopher Walken in A Behanding in Spokane |
Photo: Joan Marcus
I have to hand it to Martin McDonagh, his new play, A Behanding in Spokane is oh so wrong and oh so funny. Christopher Walken stars as Carmichael, a man who, as a child lost his left hand when attacked by a bunch of "hillbilly bastards." He has spent the past forty-seven years looking for it. Add to this grim task a pot-dealing couple trying their hand at scamming and a hotel desk clerk bent on getting one up in life even at the expense of others.
The setting is a drab hotel room replete with peeling paint and plaster and a window outside of which is a fire escape and the hotel's neon sign. The lights come up to reveal a serene Carmichael sitting at the end of the bed looking out at the audience. All of a sudden there is a commotion in the closet. After several minutes of this Carmichael opens the closet door and fires a single shot into the closet. This first few minutes sets the tone of the evening. You are laughing and no one has even said anything yet.
The pot-dealing couple, Marilyn and Toby are played by the multi-talented Zoe Kazan (also an accomplished playwright) and Anthony Mackie, recently seen in "The Hurt Locker." They have brokered a deal to sell Carmichael a hand they claim is his. This deal will net them five-hundred dollars for their trouble. The only trouble they end up finding is themselves handcuffed to radiator pipes for most of the play after Carmichael realizes that the hand they have brought him is not his; nor is it white. The young couple meet Carmichael's odd delivery of lines with a mix of incredulity, condescension and modus vivendi.
|Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell in A Behanding in Spokane |
Photo: Joan Marcus
Sam Rockwell plays Mervyn the hotel desk-clerk. He's the type of guy who would set a fire just so he can put it out and be a hero. He comes to the room in response to the gunshot. He is convinced that something dramatic is going to happen while working as a desk-clerk. Thus the appearance of a one-handed man immediately arouses his suspicion. At the top of the second scene Mervyn has a rather lengthy in-one monologue in which he discusses owning a monkey and winning a "protecting lesbians award" for thwarting an imagined attack on lesbians. Despite an other-worldly feel we get from Mervyn, a feeling that he might have come from some other play, Rockwell is a delight as the dimwitted Mervyn.
It isn't hard to imagine why some theatre-goers might find McDonagh's tale a hard one to appreciate, between the swearing and the racial and homophobic epithets coming from all the characters. I have to admit, about half-way through this compact comic gem I asked myself, what's wrong with me that I find these things so funny and I realized it is due in large part to Walken's cadence. He has a rhythm that alternates between staccato and fluid all the while putting emphasis on the oddest of syllables. While none of these characters is someone you'd want as a friend, they make for great comic fodder.
There isn't a whole lot of depth to most of these characters with Walken's character being the only one fleshed out enough to be anything but a character description in the front of a script. But McDonagh gives these characters enough spark in his dialogue to at least make them funny.
If you're looking for quirky, dark and hilarious then A Behanding in Spokane is right up your alley. While this may not be equal to some of his other work like Pillowman or The Beauty Queen of Leenane, McDonagh's interesting imagination in the hands of director John Crowley turns Scott Pask's perfectly drawn run-down hotel set into a flash of comic wackiness.
A Behanding in Spokane runs through June 6th at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
Read the full production credits at the Internet Broadway Database.