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A Behanding In Spokane
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Wayne Salomon
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
December 3, 2017

Jerry Vogel, William Roth
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

With a show like this, it’s tempting to fill this review with “hand” puns and jokes, but I won’t. Or I’ll try not to, anyway. A Behanding In Spokane, by Irish-English playwright Martin McDonagh, is the latest production from St. Louis Actors’ Studio, and as is common for McDonagh’s plays, it’s a dark comedy with a macabre twist. And as is usual for STLAS, it has a great cast and dynamic direction.

This is a strange story, no question. The characters are broadly drawn, and the situation is kind of ridiculous, to say the least, but that’s kind of the point in this play. The story follows the brash, bigoted, single-minded Carmichael (Jerry Vogel), who has checked into a small-town hotel in Indiana to carry out a bizarre transaction. According to his elaborate story, his hand was cut off when he was a teenager by a group of strangers, and he’s been on an obsessive 47-year quest to find that hand. This hotel stay is another stop on that journey, where he deals with small-time pot dealers Toby (Michael Lowe) and Marilyn (Léerin Campbell), who have told him they have what he’s looking for. There’s also the curious, meddling reception desk attendant, Mervyn (William Roth), who keeps inserting himself into the situation and seems to have an unusual agenda of his own. That’s basically all I can say without spoiling too much. Basically, it’s all true to McDonagh’s style, with a pitch-dark sense of humor, a good deal of blood, and a cast of not especially likable characters who all have their own competing self-serving agendas.

A story like this depends on the right cast to make it really work, and STLAS has assembled an excellent group of performers here, led by the always-great Vogel in a confrontational performance as Carmichael. Vogel plays well against the also outstanding Roth as the enigmatic, gleefully disruptive Mervyn, who seems to hold the most power in this power struggle most of the time. Campbell, as the excitable Marilyn, and Lowe, as the often bewildered Toby, are also strong here, contributing to the overall excellent ensemble chemistry, consummately directed by Salomon with quick, sharp timing and palpable, suspenseful energy.

The small stage at STLAS’s Gaslight Theatre is effectively transformed into a small, seedy hotel room by means of Patrick Huber’s set. Huber’s lighting design and Salomon’s sound also contribute well to the overall atmosphere here. There’s also great work from costume and props designer Carla Landis Evans. The props are especially important, contributing to the macabre humor and overall shocking tone of this play.

A Behanding in Spokane is a superbly staged play, but it’s not for all audiences. It’s definitely in the “gruesome humor” category, with a special emphasis on “gruesome”. Still, there’s a first-rate cast here, and a sharp, compelling story and script. If super dark, bloody humor is your thing, this is a play to check out.

Jerry Vogel, Léerin Campbell, Michael Lowe
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors’ Studio

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting A Behanding in Spokane at the Gaslight Theatre until December 17, 2017.

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