San Diego Theater Review: A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE (Cygnet Theatre)

Post image for San Diego Theater Review: A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE (Cygnet Theatre)

by Tony Frankel on February 4, 2012

in Theater-Regional

THE SHOW ABOUT THE HAND
THAT GIVES YOU THE FINGER

I get a thrill when I think of the tourists who are milling about Old Town in San Diego. Exhausted from tchotchke shopping and sugary treats, they decide to take in a play at the incredibly lovely Cygnet Theatre. Most of these unsuspecting travelers have undoubtedly never heard of Martin McDonagh, the playwright from across the Pond whose dark comedies about low-class and low-income Irish folk involve mutilation, crass language, and shocking revelations.  Soon, A Behanding in Spokane begins and, in trademark McDonagh fashion, the violence, mayhem, dismemberment, and four-letter words are gleefully hurled at the audience. The thought of these souls squirming in their seats as their jaws drop from the bizarre and gruesome circumstances pleases me to no end. Cygnet Theatre lives up to their credo by producing this play, as they believe in the power of theatre to startle the soul and ignite debate.

A Behanding in Spokane by Martin McDonagh at the Cygnet Theatre in San Diego – Regional Theater Review by Tony Frankel

However, Cygnet has its hands full with this four-hander. Not even the Broadway production starring the great Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell could hide the fact that Behanding is basically a stinker. In a chillingly seedy motel room somewhere in small town America, we meet Carmichael, a threatening man who searches for the hand that he lost to a pack of hillbillies. A mixed-race, pot-selling couple, Marilyn and Toby, tries to scam Carmichael by selling him a phony hand while Mervyn, a disturbing death-wishing desk clerk, pops in and out of the scene (apparently for comic effect, he adds nothing to the story – what little there is of it).

A Behanding in Spokane by Martin McDonagh at the Cygnet Theatre in San Diego – Regional Theater Review by Tony Frankel

The shenanigans at hand are preposterous, goofy, gratuitous and littered with two-dimensional characters – especially those of Toby (Vimel) and Marilyn (Kelly Iversen): The actors at Cygnet certainly fit their roles of loser drug dealer and his Goth girlfriend, but both performers lack shading and character choices, relegating them to indicating and screaming their lines in annoying desperation. As Carmichael, Jeffrey Jones offers some moments of terrorization and danger, but they are largely situational, such as when he handcuffs the fraudulent perpetrators to a radiator or affixes a lighted candle to a gas can; Jones’s internal machinery shows little sign of true menace and unpredictability.

A Behanding in Spokane by Martin McDonagh at the Cygnet Theatre in San Diego – Regional Theater Review by Tony FrankelIt is Mike Sears as the goofy clerk who proves that a great actor can overcome, if temporarily, the limitations of this script – one which amounts to no more than variations on an already unstable theme. By infusing his performance with pauses, tics and other fresh choices, Sears brings plausibility to an implausible character – his monologue is a highlight of the show.

The disturbing and claustrophobic motel room set by Christopher Ward is worthy of the highest praise. Aided by the brilliant props and scenic artistry of Bonnie L. Durben, Ward’s design is a perfect collision of Stephen King and David Lynch, made all the more spooky by Michelle Caron’s lighting design and the detailed work of scenic painter Jessica Harriman Baxter. Some of the clever staging by Lisa Berger comes off as over-rehearsed and inorganic.

A Behanding in Spokane by Martin McDonagh at the Cygnet Theatre in San Diego – Regional Theater Review by Tony FrankelMcDonagh is legendary for cranking out scripts in less time than it takes to see a few shows and write a review for them. After a string of theatrical hits, McDonagh took a stab at filmmaking, receiving an Academy Award for his short film Six Shooter (2005) and a nomination for his screenplay of the immensely well-received In Bruges (2008).

It was his status, not his script, that allowed his return to New York with Behanding in 2010. With bloody appendages and the word “nigger” scandalously bandied about in badminton fashion, one senses that the Bad Boy of the theater is more intent on shock value than actually telling a story. Even Ben Brantley in The New York Times said, “Behanding feels like a just-written Saturday Night Live sketch, for which the jokes have yet to be tested.”

But what Broadway (or Off-Broadway) producer in his right mind would turn down a proven playwright when he appears with a new script? All that the backers see is a possible cash cow milked from the deliciously demented pen of a proven playwright (Roger Berlind, Scott Rudin and the Shubert Organization were among the producing team of Behanding at the Schoenfeld Theater). Unfortunately, the likes of Mamet, McDonagh, and LaBute are beginning to pump out some discouragingly inconsequential products; nonetheless, they are produced on Broadway, receiving mixed to poor reviews. Soon, these undeserving plays are mass produced by companies like Cygnet who rely on McDonagh’s popularity to sell the show (even though most folk have no idea who he is).

A Behanding in Spokane by Martin McDonagh at the Cygnet Theatre in San Diego – Regional Theater Review by Tony Frankel

While I was unmoved (and, frankly, a little bored) with Cygnet’s production, next to me two tourists with shopping bags were agape with incredulity at what they’d just witnessed, as if they had seen a train wreck. Long after the curtain came down, they just sat there, dumbfounded and nonplussed. Finally, one man muttered, “Bizarre…that was just…bizarre.” For that moment alone: thank you, Cygnet.

photos by Daren Scott

A Behanding in Spokane
Cygnet Theatre Company
Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8;
Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on February 19, 2012
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit Cygnet

Comments on this entry are closed.