Left - Colin Moody. Cover - Bert LaBonte and Nicole da Silva. Photos - Jeff Busby
Carmichael (Colin Moody) wants his left hand back. He’s been searching for it for most of his adult life. His obsession has taken him far from family and home but finally, in a mouldy hotel room somewhere in the vast land of America, Carmichael is set to do a deal.
Toby (Bert LaBonte) and Marilyn (Nicole da Silva) say they have what he wants, they have his hand, and for a few hundred bucks it should be an easy exchange. There’s one small problem; the hand is black and Carmichael is white. It would be a stupid idea to try to convince a white guy (the characters refer to themselves as “black” and “white”), particularly one wielding a gun, that the black hand is his, regardless of how desperate he is to believe it. But Marilyn and Toby are not the brightest and give it a go all the same. Unsurprisingly Carmichael is not impressed; he wants revenge – on Toby, Marilyn and maybe even the world.
The works of playwright Martin McDonagh are known for their humour but also their disturbing and often violent themes. The violence depicted in the MTC’s production of The Pillowman some four years ago is still rather haunting. A Behanding In Spokane is the first play McDonagh has written in fifteen years and whilst it is wildly funny it too offers some grim scenarios. In the case of Carmichael, there is the sense that when he comes across what he’s been looking for, or what he thinks he’s been looking for, he may not recognise it. Even worse, the very thing that is supposed to make everything okay again, once found, simply may not.
Within this work there is a healthy amount of slapstick and some hilarious exchanges between the characters. Marilyn and Toby are quite a pair. Marilyn is a tiny and rather ditsy blonde whilst Toby, apparently a tough African American, turns out to be the softest of them all. A decent chunk of the play involves them trying to escape the confines of Carmichael’s hotel room, suitably designed by Christina Smith. It is a somewhat difficult task particularly whilst they are handcuffed to a wall heater, but as they struggle to free themselves it allows plenty of time for banter and a battle of the sexes. The throwing about of human hands and body tissue, whilst it may sound gory, makes the scene all the more farcical. Carmichael and Toby exchange in some politically incorrect but amusing taunts relating to skin colour, and their telephone conversations with Carmichael’s aging mother regarding her pursuit of a balloon up a tree, supply more than a few laughs. The character of Mervyn (Tyler Coppin), the hotel’s scarily nonchalant receptionist, also gives a darkly amusing monologue/stand-up routine.
Under the direction of Peter Evans this production has some stellar performances. All cast members are convincing in their roles and with their American accents. Moody, rather threatening in stature, is well suited to his role as Carmichael, though it is in his quieter moments, right at the end of the play, where he is at his best. The role of Marilyn requires quite a bit of physicality, but da Silva manages it well and her American accent and fluency will certainly improve as the season goes on. Coppin shows his experience, delivering a seemingly effortless monologue as Mervyn. It is LaBonte however who really stands out. As Toby he is lucky to be given the funniest lines but he makes it all, including his African American accent, seem easy.
Amongst all the rather ridiculous gore and humour McDonagh also pays attention to character development, and without it the absurd situations in which the characters find themselves wouldn’t be nearly so believable nor funny. In combination with some superb performances, it allows his audience to invest in what are some rather cruel characters. Mervyn’s stand-up routine for instance is a scene that is strangely at odds with the rest of the play and yet it means that by the end of the work, we are as attached to him as we are to the rest of the characters. Instances such as this allow McDonagh to rather cleverly swing the play from farce to drama right at the end. Were it not for the reveal of the motivations behind Mervyn’s care less attitude, and more subtly, what really plagues Carmichael, the plays’ ending would not be nearly so moving.
It remains to be seen whether Carmichael will ever find what he’s looking for but if the large and rather obvious image of a Wild West landscape on the wall of Carmichael’s hotel room is any indication, he has been, and will be, a Lone Ranger for some time. It’s a thought that crosses one’s mind but really, in comparison to many of McDonagh’s plays, A Behanding In Spokane allows its audience to leave the theatre relatively undisturbed. It is primarily a comedy, a bit of fun, and whilst there is nothing wrong with it being so, one can’t help but be slightly disappointed that this is the case.
Melbourne Theatre Company
A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE
by Martin McDonagh
Director Peter Evans
Venue: The MTC Theatre, Sumner
Dates: 5 February - 19 March, 2011
Tickets: $61.10 - $83.15 ($30 Under 30s)
Bookings: MTC Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au