Outlandish “A Behanding In Spokane” Brings Dark Humor To Actors’ Studio

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Jerry Vogel as Carmichael makes a point while Leerin Campbell and Michael Lowe look on in “A Behanding In Spokane” at STLAS. Photo: Patrick Huber

Playwright Martin McDonagh has shocked us in the past with some pretty rough Irish inspired dark comedies and now he brings that same irreverent humor to a story set in America. “A Behanding In Spokane” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio offers an outlandish premise that can’t help but pull the audience into this bizarre world of oddly familiar characters.

Carmichael lost his hand to “hillbillies” 47 years ago in Spokane who, after the incident involving a train, cruelly waved goodbye to him with his own hand as they left him bleeding by the railroad tracks. Though giving up the need for revenge after all these years, he is still obsessed with finding that hand. Two drug dealers who aren’t exactly rocket scientists decide to try to scam him by offering a “hand” to collect his five hundred dollar reward. Add a overly happy and suspicious receptionist at the Indiana hotel where the score is to go down and you’ve got the makings of a typical McDonagh farce.

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Leerin Campbell as Marilyn gives her favorite salute as Michael Lowe as Toby contemplates their fate during the St. Louis Actors’ Studio presentation of “A Behanding In Spokane.” Photo: Patrick Huber

With an exasperated demeanor, Jerry Vogel gives a strong performance as the frustrated Carmichael. From keeping one drug dealer locked in the closet while the young girl goes to fetch the hand to his banter with the receptionist, he delivers a darkly comic portrayal that Tarantino would be proud of. Michael Lowe is the bewildered Toby who, as the play opens, we think has been shot for scratching on the closet door to get out. As it turns out, Carmichael merely fired a “warning” shot past his head. What we soon find out is that Toby is not the brightest bulb in the pack and, even when his girlfriend berates him for not standing up for Carmichael’s frequent use of the “n” word, he shrugs it off.

Leerin Campbell as Marilyn is the smarter of the two low life criminals- but not by much. Her performance is grand as she even flips everyone off including the audience after the curtain call. When the two are handcuffed to the radiator by Carmichael before he goes off to investigate their further allegations, their shoe throwing bit to dislodge a gas can with a burning candle in it is a riot. Do they realize that if they knock that can over, they will all blow up a lot quicker? And then their discovery in Carmichael’s suitcase brings the dark humor to an even darker level.

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Jerry Vogel as Carmichael talks to his mom on the phone after he has just handcuffed Michael Lowe as Toby to the radiator in “A Behanding In Spokane” at STLAS. Photo: Patrick Huber

Rounding out the cast is a marvelous performance by William Roth, Artistic Director of STLAS. The dimwitted Mervyn holds down the front desk but is dressed like the Phillip Morris bellboy in the old cigarette commercials. His permanent shit-eating grin and his lethal curiosity would earn him a bullet in the head from a less tolerant villain than Carmichael. It’s almost as if Carmichael finds him too amusing to shoot.

Wayne Salomon has directed with a great insight into the absurdity of the play and the situations McDonagh has created. Dark as they are, the laughs come freely and often. Reminiscent of a David Mamet script, cursing is a way of life for all of the characters except Mervyn. Like many of his other scripts, including “The Lieutenant Of Inishmore,” the ridiculous becomes sublime. Patrick Huber has done yeoman work once again with a tight, believable set design and a strong lighting design. Carla Landis Evans provides the right touch with costuming from the punk look of Marilyn to the hilarious bellboy look of Mervyn. The only complaint might be the ragged job of wrapping Mr. Vogel’s hand to make it look like a stump. You could see his knuckles looming through the bandages.

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Jerry Vogel as Carmichael can’t figure what to make of William Roth as the dimwitted desk clerk in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “A Behanding in Spokane.” Photo: Patrick Huber

“A Behanding In Spokane” is not for everyone but if you like your comedy broad and darkly absurd, it’s for you. I felt ashamed at times laughing at some of the scandalous going’s on but you just can’t help it. It plays at St. Louis Actors’ Studio through December 17th. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

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