Sunday, March 14, 2010

Theater Review: A Behanding in Spokane

This Play and Walken’s Creepy Performance Deserve a Hand for Most Creepy
By Lauren Yarger
Christopher Walken is one creepy guy – and that’s as it should be in Martin McDonagh’s newest Broadway play, and his first set in the USA, A Behanding in Spokane.

Walken plays Carmichael, a psychopathic killer searching for his missing left hand which was chopped off when some hillbillies in Spokane held the 17-year-old youth down in the path of an on-coming train. Cruelly, they used the severed hand to wave goodbye to him and now, years later, Carmichael is still trying to regain what was rightfully his.

The search connects him with a couple of con artists, Toby (Anthony Mackie) and Marilyn (Zoe Kazan), who try to convince him that an Aboriginal hand they stole from a museum is the one he is seeking. The deal disjoints, however, and Carmichael holds the couple hostage, chains them to the radiator in his shabby hotel room (Scott, Pask, set design) and goes to their apartment where they claim to have left the real hand on top of a freezer.

The couple brings new meaning to the word stupid, with Marilyn continually derailing Toby’s attempts to make up stories that might cause Carmichael to let them go, like the “other-hand-on-top-of-the-freezer” tale. She’s oblivious to their danger because she’s ticked off that Carmichael used the “n” word, and she’s even more angry at her African-American boyfriend for not being offended by it. They argue a lot and Toby cries a lot while they make some ridiculous attempts to save themselves. They don’t think of using the phone to call for help, however, until after Toby takes a call from Carmichael’s mother.

Perhaps even more stupid than the hostages, if that is possible, is hotel clerk Mervyn (Sam Rockwell), who obsesses about monkeys and of being a hero one day, all while knowing Carmichael is up to no good. He refuses to help the hostages escape, though, and somehow sees himself as Carmichael's sidekick. The sudden realization that Carmichael is the smartest person in the room is very frightening.

If this all sounds like an unlikely plot for a play, it is, until we notice the scathingly witty comment on society that McDonagh has weaved through it. It’s really uncomfortable to laugh at some of the language and really macabre situations, but it is very funny, and true, if bizarre, and you can’t help yourself.

It’s a dark and creepy comedy, tightly directed by John Crowley and played to perfection by Walken, who seems to enjoy making the audience wince. Only he could pull off shooting someone, then deliver an unaffected “I love you” to his mother on the phone in the next beat.

A Behanding in Spokane plays at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St., NYC through June 6. Discounted tickets are available for friends of Masterwork Productions by going to Click on the show and make sure you have selected Masterwork Productions as the charity you are supporting.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Violence
• Contains really macabre stuff
• The show posts a mature rating

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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