A Behanding in Spokane

There are a lot of things missing from Martin McDonagh’s new play, and, unfortunately, none of them are hands. Cleverly staged, swiftly directed and fortunately performed by a stellar company of actors, this dark comedy contains so many and varied problems within the script that, were it in the hands of a less-skilled creative team, it would be far less of a success.

Happily, it is in the hands of an almost unfairly talented team, containing the king of dark comedy himself, Christopher Walken. With wild eyes and unruly hair, Walken is truly unsettling as Carmichael, an elderly man who lost his hand to a cruel prank when he was a teenager and has spent the past 47 years searching for it. His latest tip has led him to a small town, complete with small town crooks who attempt to swindle him out of the financial reward for returning his hand. Toby (Anthony Mackie) and Marilyn (Zoe Kazan), quickly realize they’re in way over their heads as Walken’s cold, calculated anger rapidly transforms into even more coldly calculated murder. Completing the gang of misfits is Mervyn, the hotel clerk, who apparently doesn’t care about anything except a speed deal gone wrong and monkeys at the local zoo.

A series of mishaps, mistakes and a lot of cultural stereotyping fill the next ninety minutes, along with an absurd amount of swearing. Yes, these people are nervous. Yes, these people are scared. But do they have to swear that much? After a few dozen f***’s, the language becomes tiresome and starts detracting from the actors’ performances, which are undoubtedly the best part of this production.

Kazan and Mackie deliver fine performances and Rockwell is particularly excellent as a man with no moral compass (but an apparent death wish). His delivery of a monologue explaining his latent desire to be a hero is truly entertaining; with well-timed physical gestures and calculated pausing, he manages to develop an actual character out of this thinly drawn sketch. His performance is so well-done that he actually almost steals a scene or two from Walken. But, with an appropriately gruesome grimace, Walken snatches it back.

This is Walken’s show, and no one can deny it. Whenever his character is offstage, it is undeniable that something is missing from this play. His lurking, menacing presence, his trademark way of speaking peppered with inflections and pauses, and his intangible ability to make almost anything seem creepy lift this production up from its mediocre script and transform it into a truly entertaining, funny, albeit dark, comedy. His one-sided phone conversation with his mother is one of the funniest monologues witnessed on stage in a long time.

Plot holes and a late-show twist weigh A Behanding in Spokane heavily, but the fact that the psychotic villain is played by Christopher Walken makes almost all of them excusable.

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