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A CurtainUp Review
A Behanding in Spokane
By Elyse Sommer
As McDonagh's Inishmore plays didn't evoke rosy picture of quaint, lovable villagers, so his view of the American landscape also makes decency and normal relationships homeless and its humor is so dark and grotesque that you feel almost guilty to laugh. While A Behanding in Spokane doesn't doesn't shed quite as much blood as The Lieutenant of Inishmore, it too is essentially a shaggy dog story turned on its head. In The Lieutenant. . . the dog was a shaggy cat with nine lives tale with a political twist. In Behanding. . . we have a shaggy severed hand story with some bleak Shepardesque symbolism buried beneath the macabre laugh fest.
Much of what made McDonagh's Irish plays so appallingly entertaining was his sharp ear for the language of the ruffians and louts who populated them. He now earns an A+ for the way he's captured the vernacular of Americans on the bottom heap of the social ladder. HIs barrage of profanities are to the Mamet manner born and, in fact, make Mamet sound like a choir boy.
Even though daffy low-lifes in farcical situations generally don't send my built-in laugh meter spinning out of control, McDonagh bizarre spins on people trapped in lives devoid of social or economic advantages, people whose desperation makes them dark, loathsome — and undeniably funny. Given Walken's bravura performance as the one-handed Carmichael and the excellent support he gets from the three other cast members amd John Crowley's fast paced direction, it's fun to eavesdrop on the demented doings in the shabby Arizona hotel room where McDonagh's spooky narrative unfolds.
The room is rented by Carmichael. It is also a temporary prison for Marilyn (Zoe Kazan) and Toby (Anthony Mackie), who make Bonny and Clyde seem smart enough to balance the national budget. They're two small time drug dealers who thought they could earn a tidy sum by passing off a hand stolen from a local museum as the answer to 47-year- long hand hunt even though the hand was dark skinned. A decidedly bad idea. Being presented with an obviously mismatched hand intensifies the already loosely wrapped Carmichael's most dangerous tendencies, especially since Toby is black and Marilyn takes offense at Carmichael's constant use of the n-word. You see, Carmichael's mum did little to stop the cruel hand loss caused by some abusive "hillbillies" (yes hillbillies in Tacoma, Washington!), but she did indoctrinated him with virulent racism and keep him tied to her apron strings no matter where his hunt for that missing hand takes him.
To add to the coincidences, improbabilities and loose ends that seem to be as much part of McDonagh's plays as his penchant for the macabre, there's Mervyn (Sam Rockwell), the hotel clerk who at first just seems overly curious, at least compared to the others. It seems some time before the failed hand deal, Mervyn remembers That Mervyn is also way off the normal charts becomes hilariously clear when the raggedy curtain that's part of Scott Pask's wonderfully grungy set is temporarily drawn shut and Mervyn delivers a monologue that showcases Rockwell's comic ability as it attests to his being as dysfunctional as the other three.
The fact that Mervyn also attributes a bad deal to Toby (seems he gave Toby $60 but was left hanging for for a never delivered order of speed) further involves him in the consequences of the failed hand deal. The plot defies a neat summary but needless to say it's a long dark journey into the night with events that include a gun, a can of gasoline and a lit candle, a suitcase that turns out to be a nightmarish pandora's box, a call from Carmichael's mother in Tacoma. You get the idea. Nothing makes much sense. However, if you choose to look beyond the comic surface there's plenty to ponder. These characters clearly symbolize the American dream transformed into a nightmare. It's a world which has lost the best of itself, whose citizens desperately search for the lost values that once made them strong and decent — the loss of those values that they may themselves be responsible for.
If you find these metaphorical underpinnings too depressing, just go for the laughs — and for Walken's wonderfully Walken-ish performance. But don't bring the kids or anyone who's squeamish and unamused by political incorrectness.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Atlantic Theater 1999)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (Atlantic Theater 2008)
The Cripple of Inishmaan (Public Theater 1998)
Lieutenant of Inishmore (Off and On Broadway) 2006
The Lonesome West (Broadway 2009
The Pillowman/McDonagh, Martin (London & Broadway, 2004-2005)
A Skull In Connemara (Off-Broadway 2001). . . Los Angeles- 2009