A Behanding in Spokane

April 29, 2010

This play works.  Some work for one reason, some for another.  With some it is the words, with others the ensemble.

In this case it is the presence of Christopher Walken on stage.  The supporting cast is good enough.  Anthony Mackie as Toby plays creditably and the set, lighting and directing are minimal and not distracting.  Don’t know whether it was Zoe Kazan or director John Crowley who came up with her climbing up the pipe to which she was handcuffed, but that was an inspired action.

Success in theatre is whether the audience enjoys itself.  If you have a good time and recommend the play to others, that is all the success a producer can wish for.  No one would expect this play to shine as a great work or even in the category of, say, Tracy Letts’s recent August: Osage County.  But this reviewer recommends it, so call it a success.

What makes it so, as stated earlier, is Christopher Walken.  So at home in all genres;  ability to play menacing and comedy at the same time – in the same line.  Extraordinary to watch an actor of such talent work.  I am sure that when a role for a madman arises the producers ask:  “Is Chris Walken available?” and “Can we afford Chris Walken?”  It is our good fortune that he was available and accessible to watch in person on this stage.

With mad people you can understand their logic, but not their conclusions.  Walken’s Mr. Carmichael is searching for his hand after many years of its loss.  What could be simpler?  It belongs to him and was taken unfairly away.  He is a dedicated person and has dedicated himself to this task.  No problem.  Well… not to a madman.

Pulling apart this light play would reveal little, but one note:  monolog as device to provide background to Sam Rockwell’s character doesn’t work. 

Nice to see that the “n” word can be bandied about by a white character in a light hearted jab at racism.  Shows our society has progressed on that level.  But the repeated “f ” bombs are tiresome.  If the word isn’t used for effect it becomes toothless, as it does here.  Use language carelessly in the street:  expected.  Use it as a writer and you suggest that you are out of vocabulary options.

I do like outrageous concepts and this clearly qualifies, but give me more of a reason to enjoy it than just the presence of an iconic actor.