by Martin McDonaugh
Directed by John Crowley
Starring Christopher Walken
with Anthony Mackie, Zoe Kazan and Sam Rockwell
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Reviewed by David Spencer

There are, in great stories, villains you love to hate, which I think also means rooting for the cathartic retribution they have coming to them. But then there are villains you should hate to love but don’t, because if they were missing, if they were defeated with no hope of return, the universe would be somehow diminished. And it’s not that Carmichael, the divine psychotic of Martin McDonaugh’s A Behanding in Spokane, is a master criminal along the lines of, well, The Master or The Joker or Moriarty; he is so decidedly small time that he wouldn't rate so much as a flicker of interest from a Doctor, a Batman or a Holmes—yet he is as wholly unique and memorable a creation, inhabiting a world that, though down and out, and presenting the illusion of kitchen-sink reality in its run-down hotel room setting (scrofulously deigned by Scott Pask), is every bit as fanciful as an alternate universe. And as portrayed by Christopher Walken, Carmichael becomes one with the idiosyncratic actor, whose wryly offbeat—yet somehow never off-kilter or mis-rhythmed—delivery frames a performance destined to become legendary. (I’m sorry, I have to say it: TV fanboy time: Those of you who saw John [Life on Mars: UK] Simm as The Master on the New Millennium Doctor Who, we’re talking about that level of glorious volatility, and that deliciousness of nuance.)

                  It’s often said that insanity is merely sanity displaced, and that’s Carmichael to a T. A vigorous, 60ish and casually ruthless fellow, he is obsessed with the recovery of a hand that was severed from his arm by thugs when he was a boy in his native Spokane, Washington. Why is he so driven to reclaim it, all these decades later?

                  “Because it’s mine.”

                  Of course.

                  And that’s why young, black street hustler Toby (Anthony Mackie) and his dimwitted white girlfriend Marilyn (Zoe Kazan) have made what may well be the ultimate mistake of their lives in trying to pass off an impostor hand as the real deal. Others have tried to dupe Carmichael before, and he's never taken to it without the most extreme measure of objection. At least so he claims, and the items in his suitcase would give you ample reason to believe him.

                  The weird comings
and goings should bother Mervyn the hotel desk clerk (Sam Rockwell) but he's as caught up in his own existential loop as anyone, his philosphies of life as daffy (if not as potentially deadly; well, not on purpose) as Carmichael’s.

                  With the minutest and rarest of exceptions, this play—the first by its Irish scribe to be set (and likewise debuting) in the United States—captures various rhythms of downbeat American colloq with wicked accuracy, and the lines are as bleakly and hysterically funny as any you’d be likely to hear in, oh, I don’t know, a Top Ten Bleakly Funny Plays Festival.

                  Under the direction of John Crowley, the intermissionless 90 minutes is taut, spare, suspenseful and, like its dark anti-hero, not a little insane. But you’ll buy in. And welcome sanity’s all too brief displacement…

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