What do you get when you combine violence-as-humor, ironic use of racial epithets, casual misogyny, and the kind of relentless profanity that's the sure sign of a lazy writer who can't be bothered to come up with original verbal shock tactics? You get Martin McDonagh's new play, A Behanding in Spokane, and, in the case of this critic, eyes rolled all the way into the back of your fucking head.
Irish playwright Martin McDonagh followed his acclaimed Aran Islands Trilogy with a foray into Hollywood. In Bruges, written and directed by McDonagh, was one of my favorite films of 2008. But, back on Broadway for the first time in four years, McDonagh has taken a major misstep with the black comedy A Behanding in Spokane, his first work set in America. And what did the celebrated playwright pick up in the New World? A bad case of the affliction that saddles too many writers these days: acute Tarantino-itis.
Christopher Walken stars as the behanded Carmichael (affected much?), a man who lost his left hand forty-seven years ago to a gang of cruel hillbillies in a railroad yard. Having sought his missing digits ever since, he meets a pair of swells (Anthony Mackie, recently seen in The Hurt Locker, and Zoe Kazan) who claim to have in their possession that long lost hand. If your eyes aren't rolling already I can't help you. In Bruges worked so well because despite its leading with what appear to be the standard-issue assassins-on-the-run type, there's a lot of heart and emotion behind the characters' motives. It was more than just a po-mo gangster black comedy: it was a moving character study. But Behanding's characters never get beyond type. The play is too self-conscious by half: oh, I get it, the ironic use of racial epithets is there to question our ironic use of racial epithets, the dubious back story is there to question our acceptance of dubious back stories, and our smart-as-a-whip menial laborer is there to set us straight on that, by gum!