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NY Theater Reviews

Christopher Walken, Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan/ Ph: Joan Marcus



McDonagh's latest black comedy falls a hand's length short of his previous work.


In Martin McDonagh's twisted black comedy, A Behanding in Spokane, Christopher Walken plays a man who has spent the last 47 years searching for his missing hand, which was mercilessly chopped off by hillbillies when he was a child. They placed his hand over a railroad track as a train came along. "Do you know what it's like to be waved goodbye with your own hand?" he asks.
Set in a dingy motel room, Walken's character has trapped two local youths (played by Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan) who falsely claimed to possess the hand and tried to sell him a different one. Before Walken wanders off, he handcuffs them to a radiator and lights a candle on top of a tank of gasoline.
Behanding marks the Anglo-Irish playwright's first play set in America. Though it offers many laughs and even a suitcase full of severed hands, Behanding is surprisingly undeveloped, unedited and lacking in dramatic tension. Think of a five-minute sketch extended over 90 minutes.
Once the gory premise is set up, Mackie and Kazan wait in panic to be rescued. Not much else happens besides a pointless monologue from a hotel receptionist (played by Sam Rockwell) about his monkey fantasy. But the play's worst quality is its inexplicably unrestrained use of racist language in the dialogue.
Walken is perfectly in synch with McDonagh's disturbed universe, but gives the same kind of ghoulish, monotonic performance that has become his defining trademark. Rockwell makes a lasting impression as a cocky and creepy clerk with nothing to lose or gain. Meanwhile, Mackie and Kazan merely engage in a shouting match and act hysterically.
Bottom line: While John Crowley's atmospheric production is well-staged and Walken has chilling stage presence, this slight play feels like a missed opportunity. Still, it's worth noting that only a few years ago, McDonagh threatened to quit playwriting entirely. Now he supposedly wants to move to New York and write a new play every year. Here's hoping more gems like The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore will follow.