Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell in A Behanding in Spokane
Acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh (The Pillowman, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the movie In Bruges) is back on a Broadway with a wildly offensive and awkwardly hilarious new play. A Behanding in Spokane is arguably not his best work, and I caution McDonagh-philes to not get their hopes too high, mostly because this latest offering doesn’t convey the intellectual storytelling enjoyed in his other work. This play is a farce, and its one-liners, character conflicts, and physical moments are the brunt of the show; read too much into it all and you’ll just leave hungry for more substance. But if taken as it’s given, there is much to enjoy about this new dark comedy.
If there’s one thing McDonagh does brilliantly, it’s put his characters in sticky situations (usually with a bloody, bloody death on the line), and then watch what unfolds as they lie, cheat and finagle their way to safety. A Behanding pits four different people in a hotel room of wits. Christopher Walken plays Carmichael (yes, Christopher Walken, and he’s just as you’d expect him to be). Carmichael is a man on a lifelong search … for his missing hand. Con artists Marilyn (Zoe Kazan) and Toby (Anthony Mackie) have promised to get Carmichael his hand and when they don’t follow through, Carmichael handcuffs them to the radiator as he leaves to continue the search for his appendage, and threatens death, should the hand not be where they say it is. Sam Rockwell plays Mervyn, who works at the hotel’s front desk (don’t call him a receptionist). Mervyn just wants a little excitement in his life, and he is giddy with the arrival of the three.
And thus, for 90 intermission-less minutes, these four brilliant actors (they’ve all shone brighter in other performances, be it on stage or screen), battle it out with death on the line. The script involves some solidly hilarious moments. Carmichael is a racist, and says the most unabashed things I’ve ever seen on a Broadway stage — the shock value alone is appallingly amazing. John Crowly’s direction and the production design evoke a grungy old hotel room and then a worse-for-the-wear theatre just waiting for a drama of its own. The caricatured dilapidation supports the emotional distress the characters endure; after all, they are caricatures themselves.
On an entertainment level, A Behanding is a farcical romp of the most brilliantly offensive kind. The characters function on a heightened level of terror but it only makes the humor greater. Although the plot is relatively passive for the audience (you want to know what will happen but the outcome is really pretty irrelevant), the performances and one-liners keep the audience engaged. It’s by no means a transformative theatrical experience (and McDonagh’s other work certainly can be). But the entertainment factor is high, regardless. A Behanding only plays through June 6, so check it out while you can.
A Behanding in Spokane plays at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., between Broadway and 8th Ave., through Sun 6/6. Performances are Tue 7 PM, Wed and Sat 2 and 8pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, and Sun 3 PM. Tickets are $61.50-$121.50 and available at telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200; a limited number of rush tickets are available for $26.50 on the day of performance when the box office opens. For more info, go to behandinginspokane.com, and for more theatre reviews and information, check out theasy.com.