District Theater’s ‘Behanding’ is a dark, magnificent gem!
District Theater’s “Behanding in Spokane” is an absolute joy to experience, a dark, wonderful array of literary and theatrical twists and turns that’s exhilarating and fun. I very highly recommend it.
Martin McDonagh is one of the most original voices in theater to emerge over the last 15 years. The closest comparison overall is Quentin Tarantino, in that McDonagh has a brilliant talent for dark, often violently dark, comedy and breaking barriers in regard to aggressive language in a way that’s both primal and intellectual. McDonagh’s closest comparison stage-wise is David Mamet, in that McDonagh, like Mamet, has a singular voice and a very distinct rhythm to his scripts.
As an actor, and particularly as a director, you have to really pay heed to that rhythm. I know this first-hand, as I was the director and producer of the Quad-Cities debut of McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” back in 2006. It’s not an easy task, it takes a lot of work, but it’s a thrill when you “get it.”
Director Michael Turcynski “gets it,” and he and his cast really nailed this script, and it pays off with some huge laughs and great verbal turns. That’s particularly evident in the fantastic opening sequence, which is classic McDonagh, with tense pauses, dark humor, violence and misdirections leading into what is a bizarre plot.!
In essence, the show is about a man (Brant Peitersen) searching for his missing hand which was allegedly dismembered and taken from him 27 years ago. From what we can gather, he’s journeyed about looking for the hand, enlisting the help of an apparently oddly abundant subculture of people who deal in severed hands. This leads him to a couple of moronic, low-level pot dealers, Toby (Jordan McGinnis) and Marilyn (Liv Lyman), who try to scam him but quickly have the tables turned on them. The entire show takes place within the hotel room where Toby and Marilyn are being held captive, much to the initial disinterest, eventual glee and finally mixed interest of the receptionist, a seedy Peter Lorre type (Aaron Lord).
Ostensibly the show, on its surface, is about the quest for this missing hand, past, present and future. Metaphorically, there’s plenty going on beyond the surface in regard to the stories we create for ourselves, the boundaries and challenges we create to make excuses for not fully living our lives and the impediments we sadly put in our own place as if to allow us the reasons for failure, when really, their origins lie in a lack of effort, ambition and initiative.
All of that is there for the taking, intellectually, if you want to delve into the script. If not, you can just show up and laugh your head off at the strange twists, bizarre characters and hilariously pitch black dialogue.
Peiterson is fantastic as the warped center of this vinyl record of loserdom, a man who travels in circles of his own making, looking to find his groove. McGinnis and Lyman do a great job as the half-wit drug dealers, mixing misplaced bravado with fumbling simplicity in a way that’s surprisingly not annoying. Their characters could’ve easily become grating in other hands, but each plays them down enough so that they come across as palatable. You don’t feel sorry for them, but you’re also not eagerly rooting for Peiterson to shoot them already and get it done with. The real revelation of the show was Lord, who would certainly be up for a Best Supporting Actor award for local stage for his performance if there was one (and really, why isn’t there? Perhaps we’ll create one for the end of the year… keep your eye on our site…), who takes an oily nebbish of a character and somehow makes him likeable and amusing, and also makes him somehow the moral center and catalyst of this strange show.
As mentioned prior, director and production designer Michael Turcynski does an excellent job with a great, unorthodox script, finding the perfect tone and helping to bring top notch performances out of his actors in parts that could have run really annoying in less subtle and nimble hands.
In all, “Behanding” is, as I also mentioned prior, a must-see show. It is dark. It is violent. It does have language that some will find offensive. I’m warning you. If you’re the type of person who sees “The Sound of Music” and leaves grumbling about “that hussy Maria showing too much stockinged calf,” this is definitely not the show for you. But especially if you’re a fan of Tarantino and dark comedy, fresh scripts and fine work by the cast and crew, you’ve got to see this area debut of the McDonagh work.
I don’t want to make my friend and “Hedwig” star Anthony Natarelli too nervous by calling this the best show I’ve seen all year on the Quad-Cities stage, but it’s definitely one of them. Check it out.
‘Behanding in Spokane’
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2p.m. May 12-15 and 19-21
District Theatre, 1724 4th Ave, Rock Island
Tickets $20 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (groups rates available), $10 special on Thursday.
For tickets, see www.districttheatre.com.