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Chicago by John Olson

A Behanding in Spokane
Profiles Theatre

A Behanding in Spokane
Sara Greenfield, Darrell W. Cox and
Levenix Riddle

Here's an idea for deterring crime. If fear of the legal system is not enough to do it, maybe a mandatory viewing of Martin McDonagh's latest play might be enough to scare young hoodlums straight. If the police are tough, other criminals are even tougher as two young petty crooks learn in A Behanding in Spokane. Two twenty-something drug dealer/con artists—Marilyn and Toby—learn the risks of tangling with violent criminals when they get on the wrong side of the one-handed Carmichael, a craggy villain who lost his left hand 27 years earlier to a pair of hillbilly hoodlums in Spokane and has been on a quest to retrieve it ever since. The young duo has promised Carmichael his missing hand in exchange for some cash and, not convinced they actually have the hand, he holds them hostage inside his dingy, small hotel room somewhere in the American Northwest.

McDonagh's play, much like his earlier The Lieutenant of Inishmore, has little respect for those prone to violence. The playwright's hoodlums—here a trio of minor criminals, while Inishmore's were Northern Irish terrorists—are dim witted and unduly motivated by old grudges and odd systems of belief regarding right and wrong. Though Carmichael understands a hand severed 27 years ago will have no practical value to him, it's nonetheless his justification for a lonely life of violence. Marilyn and Toby are simply losers stuck in some unnamed backwoods town who have apparently not considered that someone else might be more dangerous than they are, and the younger lovers are in way over their heads when they cross Carmichael. A fourth character, the solitary employee of the fleabag hotel in which Behanding's action occurs, is the clueless Merwyn. He's no criminal, but he becomes a little drunk with power when he gets into a position to either help Marilyn & Toby, or to have a role in their deaths—a choice which may be influenced by an old grudge he has against Toby.

The four-character play is perfectly suited to, and perfectly served by, Profiles' particular gift for black comedy and dark realism. Profiles has again brought in Steppenwolf's Rick Snyder to direct. As he did with Killer Joe for them two seasons ago, Snyder perfectly calibrates the play's dark, wry wit with its violence (which is mostly threats or occurs off-stage, instead of the onstage violence of Killer Joe and Inishmore. The dry laugh lines all land and are all the funnier for the tension that sets them up. Even a moment in which Toby slowly opens the spring-lock of a mysterious suitcase shows Snyder's skill in setting the pace of this piece.

As the filthy, frightening Carmichael, Darrell W. Cox becomes a physically imposing and threatening villain behind an unruly graying beard. He's no caricature, though, showing a softer side through his concern for his aging, demented "Ma" and the depth of his need to find the missing hand. A great comic turn is provided by Eric Burgher as the hotel desk clerk Merwyn. Stuck in a dead-end job in this rundown tiny hotel in a presumably equally run-down town, Merwyn is so isolated from society he can't even understand that it may be inappropriate to do sit-ups in his boxers in the hotel lobby. As Toby and Marilyn, Levenix Riddle and Sara Greenfield are required to be frantic the whole time and, as they possess at least a little more mental health and intelligence than Carmichael and Merwyn, they make fine foils for them.

McDonagh creates a world that is an isolated "land time forgot"—a decaying, barren hotel in what's certainly an economically depressed, dying town. A hotel one can believe would lack direct-dial telephones or any other guests to notice suspicious goings-on. The set by Thad Hallstein is a realistic depiction of such a place—a tiny, threadbare room that would likely be just as small as Profiles' stage. If the characters concerns seem petty—a drug deal rip-off, a $100 petty crime and a 27-year-old decomposed hand—these folks seem to have little else with which to concern themselves—a thought possibly as frightening as the violence depicted.

A Behanding in Spokane will run through December 4, 2011, at Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago. Tickets are available by phone, (773) 549-1815, or online, www.profilestheatre.org.

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-- John Olson



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