The Hive Theatre Company’s: A Behanding in Spokane

A Behanding in Spokane is a new play by Martin McDonagh that had it’s world premiere in New York in 2010 and is presented by the Hive Theatre Company for it’s Utah premiere, this weekend and next under the direction of Sam C. McGinnis V.  This play tells the story of Carmichel (played by Jeffrey Owen) who is a man used to getting what he wants.  He is in the pursuit of trying to regain his lost hand that was severed from his arm by means of a freight train twenty-seven years ago.  He has encountered a couple Marilyn (played by Tiffany A. Greathouse) and Toby (played by Lonzo Liggins) who claim to have acquired Carmichael’s hand.  The entire play takes place in Carmichael’s room in a hotel with a partially demented innkeeper Mervyn (played by Jared Greathouse), who manages to find himself in the middle of the action after he hear’s a noise come from Carmichael’s room. This play has a number of mature elements in it that might not make it suitable for all audiences such as frequent use of strong language, use of racial elements and humor elements that revolve around death and dismemberment.

I can appreciate and I did rather enjoy McDonagh’s morbid sense of humor.  I found myself laughing at subject matter and situations that really should not be all that funny.  Such as Carmichael describing the events of how his hand was dismembered and for the majority of the play Marilyn and Toby are held hostage by Carmichael which generally would be a very stressful situation but McDonagh manages to interject humorous elements into almost every scene.  We also get an interesting view into the mind of Mervyn which just becomes more and more strange until really all you can do is laugh at him and his way of thinking.

The play seems to have a rather slow start and I would of liked to have seen Carmichael be as engaging from the outset of the production as he was toward the end.  Carmichael leaves the hotel room for a time in the middle of the story and when he returned I saw a definite change in his demeanor and acting, I really enjoyed the latter half of his performance.  I can say the same for Toby, he was a little slow to warm up to, but after about 5 minutes he was into his character all the way to the end.  I did not get that same impression from Marilyn, it really seemed like she was working outside of her comfort zone.  She seemed to wince when she had to deliver lines that contained strong language or racial elements.  Marilyn and Toby are a cohabiting boyfriend/girlfriend couple who Carmichael referred to as “street slum.”  Toby acted that part very well, however, I got more of a suburban housewife feel from Marilyn.  The innkeeper Mervyn nailed his character from start to finish.  Mervyn is by far the strangest character of the production and I really enjoyed the way he was played.

For the most part I found the costuming (designed by Jared & Tiffany A. Greathouse) to be spot on.  Carmichael, Mervyn and Marilyn looked the part.  I thought this broke down a bit with Toby.  Again lines in the script and specifically Carmichael refers to Toby and Marilyn as “street slum.”  I get the sense that is really what McDonagh meant and not simply Carmichael’s misguided opinion, given the mannerisms and language written for both Toby and Marilyn and the fact that they did not have a refrigerator in their home only a broken down deep freeze in the garage. I found Toby to not look the part with his t-shirt and jeans looking fresh off the rack, as well as his shiny Nike shoes.  Compared to Marilyn who had an older shirt, cargo pants and a somewhat distressed set of Converse All-Stars.

There were a few scenes that were somewhat drawn out, it seems like McDonagh likes to dive into the minds of mentally unstable individuals.  To that end we can examine a little of Carmichael in his interactions with his mother over the telephone and a monologue from Mervyn giving us insight into his actions.  However I felt both of these scenes were about twice as long as they needed to be and I found my attention wandering, just waiting for those scenes to be over and for the story line to progress.

I was impressed by the physical elements of the set (designed by Michael Austin), although it was made up mostly of painted flats, the detail in the painting and the use of actual doors, door hardware, and a corded phone wired into the flats was a nice touch.  I was also impressed by the use of many real or real-like props (designed by Jared & Tiffany A. Greathouse), a gun that actually flashed and made noise and real cigarettes.  However the cigarettes did start to become a little bothersome as they are used frequently throughout the production and the theatre was not very well ventilated.  The technical elements of the play sound (designed by Mikal Troy Klee & Clint Vought) & lights (designed by Jack Robertson) were flawless.

I was left somewhat puzzled by the ending of the play, I do not wish to spoil anything here but it seemed to me there were a few unanswered questions surrounding Carmichael and his lost hand.  The hand props are central to this story and I was very impressed by the appearance and realism in the hands (designed by Johnny & Syrah Lykins), of course they are fake but up against the actors real hands these fake hands looked really good.

As you would expect from the title A Behanding in Spokane you will experience an evening of strange subject matter and even stranger humor. But overall this production is well done and will be an enjoyable experience for folks looking for a good severed limb story.

The Hive Theatre Company’s-A Behanding in Spokane performs May 3-4 & 10-11, 2013 at 8 PM in The Sugar Space, 616 E. Wilmington Ave (2190 So.), Salt Lake City. $12 General Admission. Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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