An Excellent, Pitch-Black Comedy At Toronto’s Unit 102
Martin McDonagh‘s one-act play A Behanding in Spokane could easily be a tricky play to pull off. This is a very dense work, a black comedy in McDonough’s style full of subtly interconnecting stories, shifting motivations, and the playwright’s characteristic wordplay–obscene, philosophical, absurd–that needs a team of talented actors with good direction and set design to pull it off.
Happily for Torontonians, Unit 102 Theatre, which is putting on A Behanding in Spokane at their storefront theatre at 376 Dufferin Street just south of Queen Street West, has done just this.
A Behanding in Spokane is a compact story seventy-five minutes long. It starts just before midnight in a single decrepit motel room rented by the forty-something Carmichael (Luis Fernandes), a drifter type with a bandaged stub on his left wrist who starts the action by moving to the wardrobe and firing a gun at the man whimpering inside. Carmichael, it turns out, is on a personal mission: having had lost his hand in a grotesque episode involving hillbillies and a speeding train, he has spent the years since looking for it. As one character says to another later in the play, “Some guys wave to you with your own chopped-off hand that they chopped off, it’ll make you determined.”
Toby (Ronnie Rowe), local weed dealer, has tried to sell Carmichael a hand not his, and together with his partner in life and in weed dealing (and hand dealing), Marilyn (Sam Coyle), he’s left hoping he’ll live to see the morning. (The manically overcharming and curious Mervyn (David Lafontaine)–former speed addict, current motel receptionist, and inveterate monkey fan–is happy to just watch everything happen.)
Martin McDonagh’s dramatic works carefully balance cutting humour with angry obscenities and threats of violence, delivered in an oddly rhythmic to-and-fro. People who’ve seen the film written and directed by McDonagh that was arguably his international breakthrough, 2008’s In Bruges, would have an idea as to just how careful everyone involved in a performance has to be, and how rewarding it can be when it comes off. The actors are all more than up to the task. Carmichael is well-portrayed by Fernandes, who successfully makes the audience believe in Carmichael, a man with a tragic past and unsettling obsessions who can believably switch from murderous rage to honest curiosity in just a few moments.
Lafontaine’s Mervyn, too, is fantastic, a character wonderfully reckless in his inhibitions who delivered a brilliant stream of consciousness monologue concerned with (among other things) his love for gibbons and the circumstances of his arrest. Rowe’s Toby and Coyle’s Marilyn round out the cast as a believable couple–he easily scared, she a bit hapless–who just wanted to make an easy five hundred dollars, really having no idea that things could spiral so badly out of control. All this takes place ably directed on a very well-designed set, where careful attention to detail was evident in everything from the torn flower wallpaper on the top of the room walls down to the American dollar bills that Toby took out of his wallet.
This play will not be for everyone. The play does include multiple instances of violence and use of foul language, including racial epithets. For people for whom this isn’t a problem, it would be quite worth spending an evening watching the Unit 102 Theatre production of A Behanding in Spokane.
- A Behanding in Spokane is playing at Unit 102 Theatre, 376 Dufferin Street.
- Performances are Thursday June 20 through to Saturday June 22, and Monday June 24 through to Saturday June 29.
- All performances begin at 8 PM.
- Tickets are $20. Performance on June 25th is PWYC.
- For tickets, information and directions, email email@example.com
Photograph of David Lafontaine and Luis Fernandes provided by the company