Monday, December 4, 2017

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE • St. Louis Actors’ Studio

A severed hand sits on the box office desk at the Gaslight Theater -- a little something to get you in the mood for Martin McDonagh’s 2010 dark comedy, A Behanding in Spokane, continuing St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s eleventh season. Violence, profanity and comically ill-advised malice has become a trademark of McDonagh’s (The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman), but this play, his first that’s set in the States, doesn’t quite ring true.

A reliably solid Jerry Vogel is Carmichael -- a dangerous drifter who tosses out derogatory epithets as easily as a scorpion stings. He’s been searching for his hand ever since it was viciously removed by a couple of “hillbillies” some 47 years ago. His search has led him down various dead-ends, and now he finds himself in a dingy hotel room in Indiana, again hoping to be reunited with his long-lost appendage. A couple of impossibly stupid weed dealers, Marilyn (Léerin Campbell) and her boyfriend Toby (Michael Lowe) are hoping to score a reward, but when the hand they produce clearly once belonged to an African American, things go pear shaped pretty quickly. Carmichael leaves the couple behind to chase down an implausible lead that Marilyn and Toby whip up, but not before cuffing them to a radiator and setting a lit candle into the spout of a can of gasoline. Mervyn, the curiously creepy hotel receptionist (William Roth) drops in from time to time to ask questions, and offer ramblings about his hopes of heroic adventures in a hotel where nothing ever happens.

Mervyn (William Roth)
and Carmichael (Jerry Vogel).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
English born to Irish parents, McDonagh has a knack for managing to elicit more and more laughter as the brutality in his plays are ratcheted up, but this time around, something about that usually successful dynamic doesn’t gel. The performances, while offering highlights, remain uneven, but a larger culprit seems to be the script. Flagrant use of the n-word by racist characters is nothing new. Black guys referring to themselves as the n-word isn’t new either. But in breaking out of his familiar setting of craggy Irish countrysides, the American vernacular comes off like a new, unfamiliar toy for McDonagh to play with. This hurts the uncharacteristically sluggish plot -- lighter in weight and logic compared to his past plays, and the characters, especially Marilyn and Toby, whose broad characterizations don’t really give them anywhere to go. Mervyn is an exception, and a committed Roth sells this impervious character with all of the detached, inquisitive naiveté of a child. Vogel’s road-weary Carmichael is nonchalant in his menace, but pointed when he describes how he lost his hand, only reeling it in on the occasions when he talks on the phone to his mother.

Marilyn (Léerin Campbell)
and Toby (Michael Lowe).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Directed by Wayne Salomon, this 90-minute one-act can be enjoyed for the quirkiness of it all, because although it’s not his best, A Behanding still maintains a streak of that McDonagh edge. It’s running at the Gaslight Theatre until the 17th.


Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Wayne Salomon
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through December 17 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Carmichael: Jerry Vogel*
Mervyn: William Roth*
Marilyn: Léerin Campbell
Toby: Michael Lowe

Carmichael (Jerry Vogel).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige*
Scenic Designer: Patrick Huber
Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designer: Wayne Salomon*
Technical Director: Joseph Novak
Costume Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Props Designer: Carla Landis Evans
Light Board Operator: Amy J. Paige*
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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