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A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE at ART shows America as others see us, and it ain’t pretty.

THE BASICS:  A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE, an “American” two-act play by “Irish playwright” Martin McDonagh presented by American Repertory Theater (ART) of WNY, directed by Matthew LaChiusa, starring Thomas LaChiusa, Nick Lama, Candice Kogut, and Shabar Rouse runs through May 27, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at 330 Amherst Street, adjacent to The Sportsmen’s Tavern; enter through the side door. Soda pop and beer available. $20 General Admission; $15 for students & military veterans; $10 General Admission for all Thursday night performances. (697-0837) Run time a little over two hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Playing to ART’s niche audience which enjoys somewhat unsettling characters in offbeat situations, this dark comedy presents one man’s 27-year odyssey to find his missing left hand, cut off by a gang in his youth. We meet Carmichael in a seedy hotel room and soon encounter two low-level drug dealers/would-be con artists (Marilyn and Toby) who say they have his hand and we meet Mervyn, the strange night clerk. How strange? Act Two, Scene One is set “Somewhere between reality and Mervyn’s head.”

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: There’s Irish humor (“laughing through tears”); there’s dark humor (laughing at taboo subjects); and then there’s Martin McDonagh’s dark, Irish humor. A very successful playwright in England and Ireland (he’s actually a dual citizen) and on Broadway (where marquee stars want to be in his plays) McDonagh has made a career out of audience schadenfreude (defined as “pleasure derived from the misfortune of others”).

Buffalo audiences may know parts of McDonagh’s two trilogies set in and around Galway from performances at the Irish Classical Theatre: THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN (about the dashed Hollywood dreams of a severely disfigured young man), THE LONESOME WEST (suicide, murder, and animal torture), and THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE (involving psychological cruelty and physical torture with hot oil).

This is McDonagh’s first play to be set entirely in America with entirely American characters.

This is McDonagh’s first play to be set entirely in America with entirely American characters. I originally wrote “all American characters” but this four-hander does not fit our clean-cut, healthy self-image of “all-American.” But are we deceiving ourselves with that image? Short answer: “Yes.”

Matthew LaChiusa writes in his DIRECTOR’S NOTES: “Here is where McDonagh gets us; A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE is a reflective piece about American society – warts and all. These are American characters based on how the world perceives us to be: insane, racist, handgun toting, socially deviant, drug addicted, ignorant, and psychotic. This is us in that hotel room, to varying degrees, and he then lets the chips fall where they may.”

Perhaps you are not familiar with McDonagh’s work, but imagine that if this play were to be made into a movie, then ideally it would involve a collaboration of directors Martin Scorcese for the violence, Quentin Tarantino for the everyday practical problems of being a criminal, and David Lynch for all the rest of the weirdness including stuff “somewhere between reality and Mervyn’s head.”

The play premiered on Broadway in 2010 starring Christopher Walken in the role of Carmichael, the behanded man.

The play premiered on Broadway in 2010 starring Christopher Walken in the role of Carmichael, the behanded man. I have read that the play wasn’t written especially for Walken, but the cadence of the lines indicates otherwise. Or, perhaps actor Thomas LaChiusa (the director’s brother, if you were wondering) was simply channeling his inner Walken. Again, you may not know McDonagh’s work, but if you like the kind of character frequently played by Christopher Walken, you will like BEHANDING.

(Fun fact: Christopher Walken has said in interviews that he ignores the punctuation in scripts. He pauses, starts, or stops when he feels it’s right. He used to have his scripts re-typed without punctuation, but says that these days he has learned to just ignore it. So, if you ever want to imitate Christopher Walken, try that yourself.)

The blocking (where characters sit or stand and how they move around) was solid, which is difficult on a small stage, but it seemed natural. And the set was well-designed to provide a realistic dingy hotel room with hallway door, closet door, and fire escape. Again, not easy to get all that on a small set, but the LaChiusa brothers came up with the goods.

Thomas LaChiusa was fairly believable as the edgy one handed man, but Shabar Rouse as Toby, Candice Kogut at Marilyn, and especially Nick Lama as Mervyn came across as too nice. Off stage, in real life, they are indeed exceedingly nice people, but, for whatever reason, they weren’t able to be as despicable in their roles as I would have preferred. It might have helped, too, if their costumes had been a littler dirtier, smudged, or stained, as befits street people or a night clerk who probably sleeps in his clothes.

By the way, when you go, ART suggests you make an evening of it by visiting nearby establishments: The Phoenix Restaurant (269 Amherst), Hot Momma’s Canteen (across the street from The Phoenix) or The Sportsmen’s Tavern (adjacent to the theater).

The American Repertory Theatre of Western New York (ART) has announced its 2017-2018 Season: September will see ROOMMATES (“Gangsters, Players, and Fiction”), October STUPID F**CKING BIRD (“A Humorous Adaptation of Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL”), January 2018 AN INCH SHORT AND A DAY LATE (“Millennial Rock’n’Rollers In and Out of Love”), March 2018 JESUS CHRIST STUPERSTAR (“Classic Rock Opera on Display”), and May 2018 THE RAIN DOGS PROJECT (“An Evening of One Acts Based on the Music of Tom Waits”).

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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