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Posts Tagged ‘martin mcdonagh’

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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The Lieutenant of Inishmore
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Nick Kelly
Theatre Macabre, presented by Theatre Lab
June 23, 2017

Cast of The Lieutenant of Inishmore
Photo by Holden Ginn
Theatre Macabre

Theatre Macabre is a new theatre company in St. Louis focusing on horror, dark comedy, and other plays with a darker atmosphere. Their first production, presented in conjunction with Theatre Lab, is Martin McDonagh’s creepy comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The play isn’t running anymore, as I was out of town its first week and had to catch a performance in its last weekend. While it certainly is not for all tastes, it’s a well-staged production, and if there was still time to see it, I would recommend it for the theatre patron who has a strong stomach and a penchant for a more twisted, dark-edged type of comedy.

This story, ultimately, hinges around a cat, and characters who are extremely attached to their pets. Padraic (Charlie Barron) is the prime example. He’s a lieutenant for the INLA (a splinter group from the IRA), and he’s a brutal guy, referred to as “Mad Padraic” by his colleagues and even his relatives, like his father, Donny (Chuck Brinkley). But he still loves his cat, Wee Thomas. When young neighbor Davey (Mark Saunders) discovers a dead cat while riding his bike, he brings it to Donny, who accuses Davey of running over Wee Thomas himself, which Davey denies. Then Donny decides to tell Padraic that his cat is ill, hoping it will soften the blow when he later tells him that Wee Thomas is dead. Interrupted by Donny’s phone call in the middle of torturing a drug dealer, James (Jackson Harned), Padraic immediately breaks down and decides he has to go home to be with his beloved cat. Also involved in the story are Padraic’s colleagues, Christy (Chuck Winning), Brendan (Brock Russell), and Joey (Jake Blonstein), who have their own reasons for wanting Padraic to come home. There’s also Davey’s belligerent, zealous rifle-toting sister Mairead (Larissa White), who loves Padraic and his cause, as well as her own cat Sir Roger.

That’s really all I can explain of the plot without spoiling too much. This is a fast-paced, increasingly brutal and disturbing comedy that doesn’t pull any punches, and again, is not for the squeamish. Still, even though I would usually count myself as one who would normally be grossed out by a lot of the subject matter here, the emphasis in this production is more on the comedy, and the absurdity of the situations to the point where the more gruesome aspects are somewhat easier to take, at least for me.. It’s a well-staged production, with the emphasis on the broad portrayals of its characters, led by a dynamic performance by Barron as the violent but devoted cat owner, Padraic, and also by the strong comic turns by Saunders and Brinkley as the bumbling Davey and Donny. White is also memorable as the brash, confrontational Mairead. Winning, Russell, and Blonstein make a hilariously inept trio as well, and Harned also makes a good impression playing the small role of James.  The ensemble chemistry and comic timing is excellent here, and even as increasingly absurd as the story gets, the characterizations and pacing keep it interesting.

The production values here are striking, as well. Erik Kuhn’s simple but detailed set provides a good backdrop for the action, and there’s also great work from lighting designers and Tony Anselmo and Kevin Bowman, and by effects designer Valleri Dillard. Costume designer Sarah Porter has outfitted the cast with appropriate flair, and kudos also go to dialect coach Teresa Doggett for helping the cast members achieve and maintain credible Irish accents.

This is a wild, quickly paced, increasingly macabre play, appropriate for the name of the company producing it. It’s not for everyone, as I’ve already mentioned, but if dark, gruesome comedy is something you like, this is a good example. Although this production has now closed, it has left a memorable impression. I’m curious to see what’s next for Theatre Macabre.

Larissa White, Charlie Barron
Photo by Holden Ginn
Theatre Macabre

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The Pillowman
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Ryan Foizey
Theatre Lab
May 30, 2015

Eric Dean White, Darian Michael Garey, Jason C. Klefisch Photo by John Lamb Theatre Lab

Eric Dean White, Darian Michael Garey, Jason C. Klefisch
Photo by John Lamb
Theatre Lab

The Pillowman is a work that’s at once profoundly disturbing and intensely thought-provoking. It’s a challenging concept that’s constructed in a distinctive and at times fantastical style, with many ideas that are sure to provoke much thought and discussion. It’s also being presented in a thoroughly riveting production by Theatre Lab.

The story of the play is kind of fantastical but realistic. It’s set in an unnamed totalitarian state, although the detectives presented don’t seem a lot different from those seen on US television shows.  As the show opens, we are introduced to Katurian Katurian (Jason C. Klefisch), a writer whose day job is in a slaughterhouse because he’s only ever had one story published. He’s been brought in for questioning by two detectives–the seemingly level-headed Tupolski (Eric Dean White) and the more hot-tempered Ariel (Darian Michael Garey). After at first being vague about why Takurian has been brought in, the detectives eventually start drawing attention to Katarian’s short stories and their often violent and disturbing subject matter. The resemblance between a few of the stories and the circumstances surrounding some recent murders of children has caused the detectives to strongly suspect Katurian’s involvement, and also that of his mentally challenged older brother Michal (Nick Kelly), who is initially being held in a nearby room.  There isn’t much I can say beyond this point that isn’t a plot spoiler, but suffice it to say that things get complicated, and the characters aren’t always as they seem. We also get to hear and see some of Katurian’s stories through the use of projections and some striking illustrations by Aaron Allen.  It’s a show that explores many concepts, including parental responsibility, sibling relationships, a writer’s relationship to his own work and his responsibility to his audience, as well as issues of freedom of speech and the roles of police and controlling governments.

There’s a whole lot going on in this play, and the emotional stakes are very high. The tension builds at a rapid and masterful pace, through the use of the sharply written script that makes great use of repetition and recurring themes, as well as Ryan Foizey’s strong direction and the brilliantly simple set by Rob Lippert that suggests a building that was once whole, but has been neglected and has been taken over by decay. The whole atmosphere of this play is well maintained from the outset, and the creepy tone of the stories becomes more and more disturbing, although there is are occasional breaks in the bleakness in the tone of the least violent story, “The Little Green Pig”, that provides a measure of hope.  We are introduced gradually to the rather violent background of the Katurian brothers as well as the detectives who are questioning them, and we are left to think and wonder what kind of world this is that they live in, and how different, really, is that world from our own?

The acting is excellent all around, led by Klefisch in a fearless performance as Katurian. As a writer whose first and ultimate love is writing, he also displays a real responsibility and attachment to his brother–a looming, alternately menacing and sympathetic presence as played terrifically by Kelly. Klefisch is the dominating force of the play, however, with his quirky mannerisms and his determined devotion. There’s strong support from White as the initially even-keeled but increasingly threatening Tupolski, and Garey as the quick-tempered Ariel, about whom there is more than it initially appears.   There’s a strong dynamic between all of the players, with Klefisch and Kelly displaying strong chemistry as brothers, and the dynamics of the scenes with Klefisch and the detectives bringing much compelling and challenging drama.

This isn’t a happy play, but I wouldn’t say it’s entirely without hope.  It’s challenging to both the mind and the senses, and audience members may, as I did, find themselves wanting to go home and watch something more upbeat after the play is over.  Still, it’s more than worth the emotional energy spent, and I highly recommend taking a trip to the Gaslight Theatre to witness this dark, thougtful, unrelenting and thoroughly compelling drama.

Jason C. Klefisch, Nick Kelly Photo by John Lamb Theatre Lab

Jason C. Klefisch, Nick Kelly
Photo by John Lamb
Theatre Lab

Theatre Lab is presenting The Pillowman at the Gaslight Theatre until June 7, 2015

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