A Behanding in Spokane

You know there’s a movie star on the boards when there’s a crowd at the stage door of a new play in its second night of previews on a Tuesday night. Such was the case when I saw A Behanding in Spokane, a new play by prolific playwright Martin McDonagh. Behanding is McDonagh's first play set in America and stars film and stage vets Christopher Walken (the biggest attraction for the casual theatregoer), Sam Rockwell (a favorite of mine from Safe Men), Anthony Mackie (very good in The Bacchae in the park this past summer) and Zoe Kazan (the impressive young actress who briefly shared the screen with Leo in Revolutionary Road.) All of these accomplished actors have extensive theatre credits so there’s no carpetbagging, and all are very good in Behanding.

The plot revolves around Walken’s character, who is missing his left hand. He has dedicated his life to finding his severed limb, lost many years ago in Spokane, and at rise finds himself in a seedy hotel, waiting for two kids, Mackie and Kazan, who claim to be in possession of the appendage to bring it to him. Rockwell appears as the hotel’s quirky non-receptionist receptionist.

All the actors are very good. Walken is probably the perfect person to play this disheveled, unbalanced kook; Rockwell is funny and charming as a lovable loser; Mackie is convincing as a sensitive young man who, nonetheless, can dish as well as he receives; and Kazan is engaging as his slightly naïve firecracker of a girlfriend.

This praise is all leading up to the big but: A Behanding in Spokane is startling light for McDonagh. McDonagh is known for dark comedy and much more macabre fare. Certainly the subject matter of Behanding isn’t all gum drops and candy beans, but this is his most broadly funny, least grotesque work to date. This isn’t a bad thing. The play is still good and entertaining. It’s just not what I expected from a Martin McDonagh play.

If there is one element that doesn’t quite make sense it is Rockwell’s charming but out-of-left-field monologue that is delivered in front of a curtain and directly to the audience. Rockwell is a gifted actor and he’s plenty likable here, but the construct of the monologue just didn’t quite jibe. I saw the play’s second preview, though, so it’s possible this staging may change. I think the delivery of the speech was great and the information is actually relevant but the staging was incongruous with the rest of the play.

Having said that, I would still recommend A Behanding in Spokane to anyone who is interested in seeing a new play, particularly one with a familiar and talented cast. McDonagh’s writing is smart and sharp, if a bit salty at times. McDonagh fans may be a little disappointed at Behanding’s levity, as I was, but for theatre patrons unfamiliar with McDonagh’s canon who are willing to step a little bit outside their comfort zone and into a slighter dark twilight zone, hop a train to Spokane.

Fun bonus: Visit behandinginspokane.com, the play's official website, to watch a video of Walken reading a Lady Gaga song. Brilliant.