American violence versus French farce is an unlikely faceoff. But how else to describe Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane, recently produced by Nola Project at AllWays Lounge and Theatre.
The lights come up on Carmichael (John Grimsley), a disheveled vagabond sitting on a bed in a ratty hotel room. He has no left hand.
Someone starts banging around in the closet. Carmichael pulls a gun from his belt, opens the closet door and fires. We've entered a Sam Shepard-like world, only several circles deeper into Hell.
There's a knock on the door. Carmichael cautiously opens it and sees Mervyn (A.J. Allegra), the desk clerk. Mervyn wants to know where Carmichael's friends — a white girl and a black guy — are. He seems taken with the girl. Carmichael says they are not friends of his. They were "no good f—king scum." That type of vernacular runs heavily through the play.
Soon, the girl, Marilyn (Natalie Boyd), enters carrying a cigar box. She wants to know where Toby (James Bartelle) is. Carmichael says he shot him "near" the head. Marilyn gets Toby out of the closet.
Carmichael wants to recover the hand he lost 27 years ago. Toby and Marilyn want $500 for that hand, which they say they've found. When Carmichael opens the cigar box, he finds a hand, but it's a shriveled, dark-colored hand. "A nigger's hand!" yells Carmichael, who is a dyed-in-the-wool racist.
Toby and Marilyn stole the appendage from a museum, and off we go, further into violence and farce. Toby convinces Carmichael that Marilyn brought the wrong hand and they have the correct hand at home.
Carmichael handcuffs the pair to the radiator and takes a container of gasoline from his tote. He plugs the top of the container with a candle that he lights, saying the room will be blown sky high in about 45 minutes. He sets out for Toby's house to retrieve the hand.
We learn from Mervyn that he was fond of a gibbon in a zoo and visited her regularly. Amid all this chaos, there are a host of delightful interconnections. In order to convince Carmichael that the extra hand is his, Toby says it has a tattoo. "Of what?" Carmichael asks. "Love," Toby says. He later explains he noticed Carmichael's remaining knuckles were bandaged, probably concealing tattoos. What do white loners get tattooed on their knuckles? "Love" and "hate," he guesses.
That sort of crackpot logic strings the play together. The playwright seems to know precisely what we will be wondering about and eventually he provides an unexpected answer. There also are some wild Marx Brothers-like moments, like when Carmichael's suitcase is knocked open and dozens of severed hands spill out.
Under the skillful direction of Ashley Ricord Santos, the cast turned in excellent performances. Once again Bartelle showed his flair for comedy, and Grimsley fumed like a psychopathic volcano. Bravos all around. — Dalt Wonk