BWW Review: St. Louis Actors' Studio Presents Profane and Peculiar A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE
The majority of Martin McDonagh's works are challenging in the most unexpected ways. What may seem to be a thriller is often a comedy of pitch-black proportions. His dialog is also quite profane, and often offensive, and yet, we find ourselves laughing when we should probably be shocked. Or, at least I do. A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE is the rare opportunity to see him set his ideas in America, and he delivers a bizarre representation that's disturbing and amusing at the same time. I love his work, and I'm always thrown for a loop by the twists that always seem to pop up along the way. The St. Louis Actors' Studio is presenting a deftly staged and executed production, and I recommend seeing it before the run ends. Especially if your taste runs toward the weird and absurd.
Carmichael is a man obsessed. He says he was assaulted by "hillbillies" in Spokane when he was young, and his left hand was severed at the wrist as they held it over the railroad tracks while a passing train roared by. To additionally humiliate him, they used it to wave goodbye as they left him behind, bleeding and traumatized. Since then he's been on a quest to recover his severed hand, and the task has consumed a huge portion of his life. When we meet up with him in 1992, he's in Lake County, Indiana, where he's been told by a pair of drug dealers that they can get him his appendage back. Being a Martin McDonagh play, you can be sure to expect the unexpected from that point forward.
Jerry Vogel brings a combination of determination and weariness to his portrayal of Carmichael. He's been traveling the country searching for something he may never find, and it appears to be the only thing driving him forward in life. William Roth is a hoot as Mervyn, the jack-of-no trades bellboy, who may be even stranger than Carmichael. At one point he prattles on like the speed freak he is about his fondness for a gibbon he once regularly visited in a zoo. It's like one of those surreal moments from Twin Peaks. Leerin Campbell (Marilyn) and Michael Lowe (Toby) play the drug-dealing couple who get chained to a radiator when the hand they produce for Carmichael is, not only from a museum, but also the hand of an Aborigine. As Toby, Lowe tries to come up with ways to get out of his predicament, but he's often stymied by Campbell's witless Marilyn, who often contradicts Toby's attempts.
Wayne Salomon's direction is well done, and focuses our attention on each character's unique personalities with distinct acuity. Carmichael is a matter-of-fact kind of guy, albeit, a bit nuts, while Mervyn is, well, just peculiar in his own way. Toby is emotional and desperate, and Marilyn is a bit of a skank, and obviously in over her head in this situation. Blended together they take us for enjoyable 90 minute ride. Patrick Huber's set design perfectly realizes the sleazy motel room where all the action takes place, and his lighting adds atmosphere. Carla Landis Evans provides costumes that fit each character in fine fashion.
The St. Louis Actors' Studio has crafted a production that captures the inspired lunacy of Martin McDonagh's A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE. Catch it through December 17, 2017 at the Gaslight Theater.