This play is not for the weak of heart. St Louis Actor’s Studio presents a richly textured production of Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane. McDonagh is well known for his dark comedies such as The Beauty of Queen Leeane, The Cripple of Inishmaan, and a personal favorite, The Pillowman. Director Wayne Salomon withholds nothing in his staging of the intelligent writing. Thoroughly daring and entertaining, St. Louis Actor’s Studio’s A Behanding in Spokane is a hilarious, disturbing, and downright gory spectacle of macabre wit.
The story follows a basic ‘well-made play’ structure, taking place in a single location of a hotel room. Mysterious one-handed man Carmichael (Jerry Vogel) is searching for his missing hand. Drug dealers/lovers Marilyn (Léerin Campbell) and Toby (Michael Lowe) attempt to scam Carmichael but then try desperately to escape the clutches of the madman. All the while the receptionist Mervyn (William Roth) works as an added obstacle/ally, as well as added comedic relief.
Director Salomon navigates through the rich text beautifully and leads his performers to entertaining and unique choices in their characterizations. Originally portrayed by Christopher Walken on Broadway (earning a Tony nomination), Carmichael is a goldmine of a character, and Jerry Vogel brings a determined and intense delivery and carries the show with his offbeat timing and haunting presence. William Roth played happy go lucky attitude with Mervyn but slowly peeled back the layers revealing a much more disturbed core. As Marilyn, Léerin Campbell plays an obnoxious and ditzy style of her character, providing one of the more entertaining performances of the night. And finally, Michael Lowe as Toby acts as the straight man of the comedy, of course with his own wild characterization. Lowe and Campbell play off of each other well, presenting a dynamic couple that one minute you root for and the next you hope Carmichael does kill them. As a unit, the cast worked solidly together, finding nuance in their portrayals. At times, some of the odd choices throw off the pacing and timing, but the rhythm quickly picks up again, never letting the audience down.
Staged in the Gaslight Theatre, the intimate setting provides the perfect venue for the small unit set. Set designer Patrick Huber shows a well textured and functional set that compliments the story beautifully, which he accented with his lighting design as well. Costume designer and prop designer Carla Landis Evans provided simple, yet effective outfits that highlighted who the characters were.
With daring material and well-crafted vocabulary, A Behanding in Spokane is a perfect show for those with a darker and mature taste. A warning should be made for the intense vulgarities, racial slurs, and gore throughout the show. If these do not bother you, do not hesitate to make your way to this fantastic production. The show runs December 1-17, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm at The Gaslight Theatre 358 N Boyle, St. Louis 63108. Tickets are available at stlas.org: $35 for Adults, $30 for Students, Seniors (65+), and Military.