“A Behanding in Spokane” is a weird little black-humor yarn told by four very messed up individuals.
Make that five, if you count the one who makes a significant impression via telephone, even though we never see her.
If good theater is stories worth telling that are well told, with strong acting and intelligent staging enhanced by smart lighting, sound and design, the Blue Barn Theatre’s version of “Behanding” is by all those definitions more than good.
It’s howlingly funny, occasionally shocking and, in a backhanded way, enlightening.
Playwright Martin McDonagh (“The Pillowman”) shines a light on some of the darker corners of our contemporary psyches, lets us squirm a bit at what we recognize in these characters or find hilarious about their bizarre situations, and then sends us home to be haunted by these exceedingly strange and profane people.
Carmichael (Thomas Becker) has been traveling the country for 27 years in search of the hand he lost as a youth.
It’s not that he has any hope of doing anything with the hand, like reattaching it. It’s just that, you know, it belongs to him. By rights he, and nobody else, should have it.
As the curtain rises, Carmichael sits at the foot of the bed in a seedy, dimly lit old hotel room (set designer Martin Scott Marchitto and lighting designer Bill Van Deest make it almost another character in this story).
He is waiting. Waiting for a knock at the door. But when he hears a knock, his response is not what you’d expect. Right away, with a bang, we’re hooked into this story.
We soon learn the hotel’s trippy front-desk man and switchboard operator, Mervyn (Vincent Carlson-Brown), is a speed freak with a lively curiosity, an underdeveloped sense of self-preservation and a stream-of-consciousness way of talking too fast.
We learn that none-too-bright Toby (Raydell Cordell III) and his girlfriend, Marilyn (Olivia Sather), claim to have Carmichael’s hand and want to sell it to him. But they don’t quite have their act together as con artists, or with each other, which is good for more than a few laughs.
And we learn that Carmichael has quite a lot of suppressed rage, what with all he’s been through. Also that he’s racist, homophobic, homicidal and throws the N word around a lot. And he has a real love-hate relationship with his mother, who has her own set of problems.
The evening is all about twists and reveals, which you need to discover by sitting down and watching this 90-minute, intermissionless play. If you can tolerate filthy language and twisted minds, you’ll probably be laughing as hard as Saturday night’s packed audience did.
And at things you never thought you could laugh at. Like what’s in that suitcase. And how long a candle stuck atop a can of gasoline will burn. And how crazy messed up people in American society can be, taking their frustrations out on each other.
Director Kevin Lawler pulls terrific performances out of all four cast members (veterans Becker and Carlson-Brown are particularly memorable) and the whole endeavor will no doubt be remembered at post-season award time. Like its characters, it deserves whatever it gets.
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