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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Riveting Production of A Behanding in Spokane

Also see Richard's review of Play/Endgame and Six Plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

A Behanding in Spokane
Rod Gnapp, Daveed Diggs and
Melissa Quine

Carmichael (Rod Gnapp) wants his hand back, and he has been searching most of his life for the left hand he lost when some "hillbillies" cut it off when he was a teenager. That is the premise of this hilarious, spellbinding comedy by Martin McDonagh. The playwright, who also authored the flaky, funny The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the spine-chilling The Pillowman and the wonderful The Lieutenant of Inishmore, has written a concise, 90-minute, gun-totin' picture of a wretched machismo person hellbent on revenge.

Carmichael, who can be considered a modern day cowboy, a racist who uses the "N" word a lot, and a homophobic sociopath, has rented a room in a seedy hotel waiting for African-American Toby (Daveed Diggs), a low level huckster, and Marilyn (Melissa Quine), his shrewd little blonde floozy, to deliver the missing hand. Carmichael has spent 27 years in an obsessive search (think Captain Ahab in his search for this hand). The unfortunate thing about this Bonnie and Clyde couple is that they try to sell him a black man's hand.

Carmichael ties the couple to a radiator and says he will go back to Toby's apartment to get the hand. In the meantime, the devious Carmichael lights a candle that will last only 45 minutes on top of a gasoline can. Heaven help the couple if the hand is not retrieved.

What ensues involves gunshots, explosives, and a lot of screaming, plus a heap of self-hatred, old fashioned bigotry, resentment and betrayal. There is a healthy amount of slapstick and some hilarious exchanges between the characters.

Rod Gnapp is perfectly cast here. He has a daunting physical presence with an intimidating tone in his flawless American drawl and weather-beaten face capable of twisting to the pathos demanded. It is a mesmeric performance.

Daveed Diggs gives a convincing performance as Toby. He is wonderful as he attempts to talk his way into and out of a sticky situation. He is a stand out, and is given the funniest lines. The role of Marilyn, played beautifully by Melissa Quine, demands a lot of physicality but she pulls it off with her Midwest American accent. It's a terrific performance.

Alex Hurt, a New York actor, gives a notable performance as Mervyn "the reception desk guy," which he hates to be called. Hurt wonderfully plays the role as a naively belligerent foil to the one-armed bandit and his double crossers. Mervyn is a purposeless geek who has a fantastic oddball monologue about monkeys.

Bill English's rundown hotel room set is perfect for this comedy. Jacquelyn Scott's ghastly props heighten the sense of peril. Susi Damilano's direction elevates the rapid pace comedy.

A Behanding in Spokane plays through June 30th at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. Coming up next is Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady opening on July 10 and running through September 15th.


Photo: Jessica Palopoli

- Richard Connema



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