From flying body parts and attempted gasoline explosions to internal monologues regarding a young man’s strange affinity for gibbons and high school massacres, along with everything in between — “A Behanding in Spokane” is a sardonic farce sure to both enthrall and disgust.
SF Playhouse’s regional premiere of “A Behanding in Spokane” — the most recent Quentin Tarantino-esque macabre comedy by the Academy Award-winning Irish playwright Martin McDonagh — captivates audiences with its gruesome humor, boundary-crossing absurdity and gaggle of bizarre characters.
Straying from the rural Irish setting of much of his previous theatrical works, “Behanding” is the first of McDonagh’s plays to be set across the Atlantic — more specifically, in the small western American, seemingly lowlifes-filled town of Tarlington. Despite the relocation, the script incorporates the same crisp dialogue, extreme personalities and morbid wit present and seen throughout all of McDonagh’s films and stage productions.
“Behanding” dives deep into the dark and twisted mind of a bitter, gun-toting, one-handed man named Carmichael (played by Ron Gnapp) and follows him in his latest attempt to regain possession of the left hand he had “hacked off” at age 17 by a freight train when a group of drunken “hillbillies” abducted him and tied him to a railroad track in his hometown of Spokane, Washington. Supposedly, these so-called “hillbillies” took off with the appendage, using it to wave goodbye to the helpless boy as he laid on the track, freshly amputated — a moment brought up and stressed repeatedly by the lead character.
The grotesque narrative plays out in a dingy hotel room (designed by Bill English), occupied by the menacing Carmichael as he travels to Tarlington, still in desperate search of the limb he had lost over a quarter of a century ago. In an attempt to con Carmichael out of the five hundred dollar reward for retrieving the severed appendage, an idiotic pair of avaricious drug dealers Toby (played by Daveed Diggs) and Marilyn (played by Melissa Quine) steal a hand from the local museum and claim to have located his missing limb. This doesn’t go too well for the stolen hand turns out to be black and, well, Carmichael is revealed to be a white supremacist with homicidal tendencies.
To add to the array of oddball characters already present, throw in an overly intrusive, adventure deprived hotel receptionist Mervyn (played by Alex Hurt) with an unusual obsession with monkeys, a churning desire to be a hero and impeccable timing, as well as the equally racist (if not more) 70 year old mother of Carmichael (a character unseen and unheard, but made present through the numerous phone calls she shares with those on stage).
Under the sharp direction of Susi Damilano, the SF Playhouse brings this 90 minute comedy to life in its quaint, intimate theater. The production boasts an incredibly talented and well-balanced ensemble of actors. Ron Gnapp’s portrayal of the spooky Carmichael is frightfully delectable to say the least — paying homage to the brilliant Christopher Walken who originated the role on Broadway (earning him a Tony nomination) — with Diggs, Quine and Hurt adding many moments of comedic relief and hysterics along the way.
Opening with a gunshot and closing with an attempted suicide, along with the dropping of many F-bombs and perfectly time awkward pauses from start to finish, SF Playhouse’s “A Behanding in Spokane” is an outrageous black comedy that will, without a doubt, entertain. With its combination of eccentric characters you are sure to love, hate and pity, this hilariously crafted production will leave you feeling comically satisfied with a hint of lingering disturbance.
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