Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: Worth seeing for Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell.
I do my utmost to steer clear of any reviews, articles, criticisms, etc...of a production before reviewing it but for some reason it seemed almost impossible to avoid the negative criticism surrounding Martin McDonagh's latest play on Broadway, A Behanding In Spokane. To all those critics out there who have all but damned the man, I say get over yourselves. This show may not be McDonagh's next masterpiece but it is certainly a laugh-out-loud good time. In addition to some good, old-fashioned dark humor, there are two outstanding performances given by Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell. If McDonagh is the first playwright to have a mediocre story thrive on Broadway with the help of a little Broadway money - umm, I mean, magic - (whether it be in the form of hiring highly sought after actors, amazing spectacle, or catchy music), then I'm the Queen of Sheeba. With that out of the way, let's focus on what's important: a quirky story with some quirky actors, makes for a unique Broadway experience.
The story: an older, eccentric man named Carmichael, played by Walken, is on a forty-seven year long quest for his missing hand. Two pot-selling kids, Marilyn and Toby, played by Zoe Kazan and Anthony Mackie respectively, find themselves in a very compromising position when their con goes bad. What's worse is the hotel receptionist, Mervyn, played by Rockwell, only muddies the situation. That's it. That's pretty much the whole story - oh yes, there are some phone calls involving Carmichael's mother. McDonagh includes his signature twists and turns as well as his keen abilities to catch the audience off-guard and create suspense. (I'd love to give an example but I'd hate to spoil the surprises, let's just say body parts and gasoline are involved.) Unlike his other Tony Award nominated plays, (The Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Pillowman), Spokane relies more on the humorous things being said, the way in which they are said, as well as how the actors interpret their relationships with one another rather than on the content of the play itself. It is more about clever dialogue than a clever plot line.
No one can deliver dialogue more cleverly than Christopher Walken. The man has made a career out of his distinctive delivery and ingenious ability to balance complete likability with definite craziness. While it seems that the role was made for the actor, surprisingly, Walken was the last actor to be cast in the production. After seeing him perform, it is hard to imagine Carmichael as anyone other than Walken. Now, it would be impossible to try to out-Walken Walken, but Rockwell does a fantastic job of holding his own up there with the King Of Quirk. A true partnership, the two never battle to outshine one another. They support each other with equally intriguing interpretations of their kooky characters. It is incredibly fun to watch these two gifted actors play together on the stage.
Will McDonagh earn another Tony nod for this production? Maybe not. But it does add to this young playwright's impressive list of accomplishments. (Three shows on Broadway and two Tony nominations before he's forty? I'd say so.) Plus, for the price of admission you can have a 90-minute master class in outside-the-box character interpretation by observing Walken and Rockwell. Since the show relies on the aforementioned performances, it's hard to know how it will play at regional and community theaters around the country. Frankly, that's why you should see it on Broadway while you still can.
(A Behanding in Spokane plays at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, through June 6th. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 2pm and 8pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $121.50-$61.50 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. A limited number of rush tickets are available on the day of performance when the box office opens for $26.50. Wednesday matinees are $50 for a limited time. For more info go to behandinginspokane.com.)