THEATER REVIEW: “A Behanding In Spokane” makes West Coast premiere at Cygnet

Martin McDonagh, the marquis of macabre, exchanges his usual rural Irish locale for the U.S. in “A Behanding In Spokane,” in its West Coast premiere through Feb. 19 at Cygnet Theatre.

McDonagh specializes in the hilariously horrid, the gleefully gruesome. His plays (like “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and “A Skull in Connemara”) feature average (though typically none too bright) characters who get themselves into odd situations oozing with blood and violence, but somehow the contrast between their ingenuousness and the extreme situation makes the audience laugh – and then stop to wonder whether that was an appropriate response.

Here’s the “Behanding” backstory: In a sleazy motel room in Spokane, one-handed Carmichael (Jeffrey Jones) sits on the bed, brooding. He lost his left hand to revolting violence 27 years ago, and has spent the intervening decades in search of that missing appendage.

A couple of young con artists – Toby (Vimel) and his girlfriend Marilyn (Kelly Iversen) – claim to have it and will hand it over for a mere $500. Marilyn has gone off to get it. Meanwhile, Carmichael has locked Toby in the closet, from which we hear muffled sounds ... until Carmichael opens the door and shoots into the closet.

There’s a fourth character – Mervyn (Mike Sears), the hotel receptionist, who hates that term and isn’t too fond of the motel, either. Mervyn knocks on Carmichael’s door to check on the gunshot (“What gunshot?” is the response).

When Marilyn returns with a hand (but not the right one – you saw that coming, right?), sparks begin to fly. But these are weak, sputtery sparks, because McDonagh takes the easy way out with this script.

He’s made Toby black, setting up easy (but not particularly funny) racist jokes. He’s tossed in an unseen character – Carmichael’s mother – whose situation is way more interesting than the one we are here to consider. But the major problem is that this play (which McDonagh himself has described as “trashy”) isn’t about anything and the characters aren’t interesting enough to keep us engaged.

Director Lisa Berger (who knows her way around weird plays) does what she can with the script. She’s blessed with a fine cast, a good set (by Christopher Ward), effective lighting by Michelle Caron and (REVEALING) costumes by Jessica John Gerke.

McDonagh will forever be one of my favorite writers for his brilliant “In Bruges” screenplay as well as several of his other plays. “A Behanding In Spokane” is, alas, lesser McDonagh.

The details

“A Behanding in Spokane” plays through Feb. 19 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

For tickets, call (619) 337-1525 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.

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