Thursday, 10 February 2011

A Behanding in Spokane, MTC ***1/2

A Behanding in Spokane 
By Martin McDonagh, by Melbourne Theatre Company
 MTC Sumner Theatre, Feb 10 to March 1, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 10, 2011
Stars: ***1/2

Martin McDonagh says his black comedies walk the line between comedy and cruelty. His newest work, A Behanding in Spokane, combines his signature, laugh-out-loud dialogue and situational absurdity with blatant and latent violence. The stage is a dangerous place for his characters.

It is a revenge comedy: a hand for a hand instead of eye for an eye. Decades earlier, the brooding, racist, Carmichael (Colin Moody) was behanded (his hand cut off) by rednecks who waved goodbye to him with his own hand.

For 26 years, the obsessed Carmichael fruitlessly scours the country for his lost hand. A couple of chancers, Toby (Bert LaBonté), the black marijuana dealer, and his dim-witted girlfriend, Marilyn (Nicole da Silva), try to con him by selling him an aboriginal hand stolen from a museum. All hell breaks loose and they face the wrath of Carmichael.

The play has some of the classic elements of McDonagh’s style. A group of eccentric, flawed characters are trapped in an isolated, claustrophobic location, in this case, an Arizona motel room. Cruelty and violence collide with banal conversations and peculiar obsessions. The outcome is unpredictable and the situation dangerous.

Moody is compelling as the dour, volatile, surly Carmichael. Although the other characters appear to be too clever, clean and middle class, LaBonté captures the weakness and bravado of the frightened Toby, da Silva is suitably dim as his gal and Tyler Coppin is funny as the weird, reluctant receptionist.

Peter Evans’ production needs to escalate to an explosive ending. The pace is too slow in the final scenes – but that could be in the writing. Strangely, these American characters have the style and language of McDonagh’s Irish characters but they lack the credible, dim edginess of the quintessential American criminal.

This script is not as successful as McDonagh’s six early plays set in isolated, western Ireland. It is a one-gag story that needs either to be unleashed and dive further into absurdity and chaos, or to be harnessed into a shorter play. If you want to see a classic McDonagh, see the movie, In Bruges. It is brutally funny.

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