A Behanding in Spokane (hereafter referred to as “Behanding”) is God of Carnage meets Edgar Allen Poe. Like God of Carnage, it is (or rather, is advertised as) a dark comedy about four characters, who feel varying degrees of dislike towards one another, going through a traumatic experience while trapped in one room together. Both plays even have a subplot about a character receiving phone calls from his sick mother. As in many of Poe’s works, Behanding features death traps, grisly violence, and acts of twisted human behavior (ok, that last one could apply to God of Carnage too). However, Behanding’s playwright, Martin McDonagh, gets away with more cursing than Poe.
Twenty-seven years ago a group of hillbillies strapped Carmichael (Peter Hilton) down to some train tracks. When an oncoming train sliced his hand off the hillbillies left–and took the hand with them. Carmichael lived, and ever since then has devoted himself to retrieving his long-lost appendage. His search leads him to a seedy hotel room where Toby (Jeff Rolle Jr.) and Marilyn (Zoé Fisk) agree to sell Carmichael’s hand back to him. However the deal is botched, things go awry, and a hotel receptionist named Mervyn (Angel Correa) is continually butting in.
Too bad the summary is more intriguing than the show itself. The handling –bad pun intended –of the exposition is incredibly clunky. Carmichael just flat-out says his entire back story. The dialogue has a bad habit of being repetitively long-winded, and there are too many monologues. This causes two problems. First, monologues are rarely more interesting than true back and forth interaction between actors. Second, the monologues in Behanding are not exactly “To be, or not to be….” quality. Also Behanding manages to be both over and underwhelming in its conveyance of “shocking” reveals.
These issues are especially pronounced during the portion of show when the action pauses so Mervyn can fill the audience in on what he was doing while the rest of the characters were going through the main plot line. He also reveals a past encounter with one of the other characters. Then the action resumes, and he reveals the same information again, which renders sitting through his ramblings pointless.
The characters are not particularly interesting. Even Carmichael –with his gruesome past haunting him day and night –does not seem to have much to him. Marilyn is underutilized. Most disappointing of all, the characters do not seem to develop or grow much from their experience. They will all remember what went down in the hotel room but it does not change them.
I will give the show credit for evoking a “holy shit!” reaction from me during one of the better moments. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is extremely well executed. It also creates the foundation for some of the play’s better comedic moments.
The actors do really well with the physical aspects of their roles. There is a scene involving a suitcase, and Fiske stretching out to reach it is quite funny. Correa and Rolle’s altercation –which involves throwing props at each other –is another high point. Overall, the acting is one of the superior parts of the show.
The designer did a great job, the set looks like a seedy hotel room. Everything is stained: walls, carpet, bed spread. The window is heavily smudged. Cheesy paintings are hung on the walls. All of it is in flesh and blood tones, which makes it look even creepier.
Coming out of A Behanding in Spokane, I tried to find some meaning in it. If you strip away all of the superficial layers, The Behanding of Spokane is a morality play about letting go, because if you don’t it could be dangerous to your health. A worthy moral to learn. But even with a better cast and production value, this story is too hard to handle.
Side note: This show is not intended for young audiences and contains repeated use of racial epithets.
Reviews on Broadway:
October 23rd – November 15th