I love a good dark comedy. There's just nothing more fun than laughing at things you really shouldn't. This is probably why I like the plays (and films) of Martin McDonagh so much. Not just that they deal with people with nefarious pasts doing dark dealings but that he always puts a kind of ridiculous surreal twist on those dealings. And his latest play, "A Behanding in Spokane" currently playing at Theater Schmeater, is no exception. And thankfully the folks at the Schmea have taken it and infused their production with the perfect amounts of stirring intensity and vicious hilarity to amount to a killer evening of theater.
The title for this one kind of tells the basic setup. Charmichael (Gordon Carpenter) has been on the hunt for his hand ever since it was forcibly removed 27 years ago in Spokane, Washington. His search has led him many places and to many people with many different severed hands but never the right one. But now he's come to this hotel room in a small town where two pot dealing lovebirds, Toby and Marilyn (Corey Spruill and Hannah Mootz) claim to have it and are willing to part with it for $500. The problem is that it's all a scam and they quickly find that Charmichael is not the kind of guy you want to scam. What follows is a hilarious exchange of some incredibly rich and juicy dialogue between the handless killer, his captives and a perpetually interrupting desk clerk, Mervyn (Brandon Ryan), who is just longing for some excitement.
Director Peggy Gannon has not only captured the perfect tone and pace for the show but also assembled a wonderful ensemble of actors. Carpenter as the hand and mother obsessed psycho manages some amazing levels with his character but doesn't fall into the trap of overreaching. One minute going from an intense menacing to the next with his deep concern for his poor mother. As superb as they both were, I would have liked more commitment to their character choices from the scamming couple but that doesn't mean they weren't both magnificent. Spruill as the wanna be street thug and Mootz as his ditzy love make the perfect fodder for this dangerously ridiculous scheme. But it was Ryan who completely walks off with the show with his understated and damaged comic relief. In fact I even hesitate to call him the comic relief as his character is so integral to the story and he embodies him with so many layers of complexity. He goes from hysterical stream of consciousness non sequiturs to a subtly manic intensity at the drop of a hat (or hand) making his character an absolute joy to watch. His monologue alone is worth the price of admission.
Complete with a superb set from Michael Mowery the show is a winner. I do have to question the use of interjecting mood music in some tense moments as this isn't a movie and kind of felt distracting but now I'm just picking at hairs which shows how good the show really is. So if you're in the mood for some really gritty and hilarious dark comedy, you don't want to miss this one.
"A Behanding in Spokane" plays at Theater Schmeater through February 23rd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.schmeater.org.
Photo credit: D Hastings