‘A Behanding In Spokane’ at SF Playhouse: laugh till your sides ache but beware of flying body parts

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 4 Stars » Highly Recommended)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Carmichael (Rod Gnapp) is on a quest. Many years ago, outside Spokane, a group of drunken “hillbillies” kidnapped him, tied him to a railroad track, and watched as an oncoming locomotive severed his hand. They absconded with the hand and used it to wave goodbye at the hapless boy as they stumbled away, laughing, into the woods. That’s Carmichael’s story and he’s sticking to it.

There is no doubt, however, that he is missing a hand. And he has spent the past twenty years tracing down hand dealers in hopes of finding his own. Will tonight be the night? Alex and Melissa, loser drug dealers stumbling into the missing hand business, have promised to deliver the goods.

The premise is peculiar, but the humor that playwright Martin McDonagh develops from this setup is classic situation comedy and farce. There’s mistaken identity, unlikely twists of fate, peculiar characters, and physical mayhem.

If this were Neil Simon, we would have flying linguini splattered against the wall. With McDonagh its bullets and body parts, but the laughs are the same.

Rod Gnapp as the one-handed Carmichael in SF Playhouse’s production of Martin McDonagh’s “A Behanding In Spokane”. Wait’ll you get an eyeful of what’s in the suitcase! Photo Credit: SF Playhouse.

As the play opens, Carmichael draws a gun and steps into the closet of a dingy hotel room (perfectly realized by set designer Bill English). We hear the frightened voice of a hostage followed by a gunshot. Has Carmichael committed a murder? There is a knock at the door. The reception desk guy wants to know about the gunshot. He thinks there may have been a drug deal gone bad.

“Come on,” asks a plaintive Carmichael. “Do I look like I’m involved in the drug business?”

“Totally,” comes the deadpan reply.

Later, Mervyn the reception desk guy (a pathetically bizarre Alex Hurt) delivers a show stopping comic monologue about his longing for adventure that includes this gem: “I always used to hope they’d have one of those shooting massacres at my high school, y’know? Didn’t you? Nothing ever happened at my high school.” Funny with an ache of reality.

Before we’re through, we’ll also hear Carmichael in a hysterical phone call with his mother: “I AM a racist Mom, really, no, I DON’T have a Black friend. He’s lying!”

This is surely one of the most offbeat black comedies you’ll ever see, playing like the result of a mad coupling between Neil Simon and Quentin Tarantino. It is a beautifully designed clockwork comic construction and you will likely laugh your head off (not literally, one hopes, given the gruesome body part count).

This well-balanced four hander spreads the comic gold equally among four excellent actors, each of whom delivers show stopping moments of laughter.

A Behanding In Spokane continues through June 30, 2012. Click here for further information.

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“A Behanding In Spokane” by Martin McDonagh, produced by SF Playhouse. Director: Susi Damilano. Set: Bill English. Lights: Michael Palumbo. Sound: Cliff Caruthers. Costumes: Miyuki Bierlein. Properties: Jacquelyn Scott.

Toby: Daveed Diggs. Carmichael: Rod Gnapp. Mervyn: Alex Hurt. Marilyn: Melissa Quine.

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