By David Gordon, Managing Editor
The first play Martin McDonagh has set in America is the most disappointing piece he's ever written. His others, set in Ireland (and which, in a variety of ways, dealt with the way the area affects the characters), were far stronger works than "A Behanding in Spokane," given an uneven production on Broadway (where it opened cold) by director John Crowley.McDonagh and Crowley share the blame. The script is virtually substance-free, a far cry from brilliant, thought provoking works like "The Pillowman," "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" and the film "In Bruges." Crowley has directed two members of the cast to be shrill and hyperactive, the other two to be quietly intense.
The former are Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan as Toby and Marilyn, a pair of small time con artists. The latter are Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell as Carmichael, a drifter and loner searching for his missing hand, and Mervyn as the "receptionist guy" at the hotel where Carmichael holes up.
Carmichael's 47-year search has led him to this hotel. Toby and Marilyn have promised him this hand, which turns out to be the wrong color. Following a barrage of racial slurs aimed at Toby, they're handcuffed to the radiator, a lit candle in a gas can, as Carmichael goes to their house to search for the real hand which they claim is on top of the deep freeze. Guess what's not on top of the deep freeze?
Walken's kookiness is the perfect match for McDonagh's dark comic style. It's impossible to look away from this captivating sociopath, clad in all black (costumes by Scott Pask, who also designed the set), and his off-kilter manner serves him especially well here. Ditto for Rockwell, who has one of the most bizarre monologues McDonagh has ever written, involving zoo animals and high school shootings. Mackie and Kazan are in a different play entirely and their frenzied demeanor nowhere near reaches the levels of humor that Walken and Rockwell mine from quiet, unassuming performances.
Ultimately, this is a comedy that goes solely for cheap laughs (and there are laughs). There's no sense of grand tragedy, like that of the fate of Cripple Billy, who wants to make it in Hollywood in "The Cripple of Inishmaan," in any of the characters here.
Sure, lives are at stake (when aren't they in McDonagh's work?) and limbs are flung back and forth, but everything in "Behanding" meets the eye.