A Behanding in Spokane
Irish playwright/screenwriter Martin McDonagh’s work has reached an exclusive class, that of adjective status, as in a McDonagh play or like his film kindred spirit, a Tarantino film. In fact like Tarantino, McDonagh’s plays are signatured by over-the-top, in-your-face horror and blood peppered with every offensive epithet known to man and grounded in a wicked display of black comedy.
What they are not, though, are straightforward dramas with linear plots that include a setup, conflict, and resolution. Rather, they are bizarre, absurd scenarios filled with asylum-like characters in which the audience is voyeuristically dropped within.
But what McDonagh plays lack in plot, they more than make up for as powerful acting showcases. Witness Collin Ferrell’s best film work in the McDonagh penned "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths." On Broadway, in just five plays his actors have wracked up an astonishing 11 Tony nominations including three wins.
All of the above is true in McDonagh’s "A Behanding in Spokane," now being presented by Second Thought Theatre. In this play McDonagh introduces us to Carmichael who quite literally is looking for his hand which was cut off nearly thirty years earlier by hillbillies who held it on a railroad track as a train rushed by.
Carmichael, all in black, has been traveling the country with a gun and a suitcase of severed hands looking for his dismembered hand. In an unspecified city motel room he waits for Toby and Marilyn, two small time hustlers who are prepared to sell Carmichael his "real" hand.
The play takes place entirely in the appropriately bland and sparse hotel room (Scenic Designer Drew Wall.) Director Alex Organ’s only misstep is allowing the opening-establishing scene to linger too long in this otherwise breezy 90-minute production. Similarly, Van Quattro’s performance as Carmichael is blandly shaky at first but grows stronger and fuller as the play progresses.
No such slow start happens for David Jeremiah as Toby, a self-proclaimed ’weed-dealer’ now dabbling in hands. McDonagh is not known for his economy of words. Instead of a simple ’shut up’ he writes a paragraph so uncomfortably comedically dark that your ears burn and your eyes bug out.
Jeremiah is given the lion’s task of these mini-logues and is razor sharp in his delivery. Barrett Nash plays Marilyn, Toby’s girlfriend and hand-dealer partner. It’s an underwritten toss-away girlfriend part that doesn’t give Nash much to work with.
Seemingly unconnected to the other characters, this ’behanding’ belongs to Drew Wall as the gum-smacking, hands-in-his-pocket, bug-eyed, in-your-face motel clerk Mervyn. Wall’s performance is outrageous, especially in his mind-blowing, mid-play rambling monologue that journeys from the merely bizarre to the squeamishly uncomfortable, head-for-the-exit disturbing. Wall’s Mervyn is the queasiest motel clerk this side of the Bates Motel.