By DAVID MUNNELL
“A Behanding in Spokane” marks one of the few forays into the American perspective written by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.
Most of McDonagh’s plays are notable for their dark, gritty atmosphere and use of extensive questionable language. And they’re hilarious.
This particular play being produced by the Youngstown Playhouse begins, obviously, in Spokane, Wash., in a seedy hotel where a one-handed man named Carmichael, played by Tom O’Donnell, has finally found a lead on the one possession he’s been searching for for more than 30 years: His hand.
This is done through an agreement with two slow-witted, small-time drug dealers: Marilyn, played by Courtney Nicole Auman and Toby, played by Timothy Thomas. Also there to throw his own antagonizing exploits in the mix is Mervyn, the “receptionist,” played by area favorite David El’Hatton.
These four actors pack a lot of talent on the small stage they play on.
I’ll begin with O’Donnell, who plays the title character, Carmichael. The venerated actor Christopher Walken originally performed this role on Broadway, but O’Donnell’s performance is nothing like his predecessor’s and it’s fantastic to watch. His portrayal of the racist, madcap fanatic ramps up quickly from dark and brooding to gleefully insane at the drop of a hand and will leave you rolling on the floor laughing.
Auman and Thomas as Marilyn and Toby are fun to watch as they bumble around the hotel room trying to get out of a bad situation.
At times a little too frenetic for the style of show — Thomas literally knocks his knees together in fear at one point — the instances are too few to detract from the excellent comic timing and chemistry these two exude throughout the evening.
And finally, there’s El’Hatton in one of the most uniquely wacky performances I’ve ever seen. He plays Mervyn as a cross between an early Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Al Pacino to the delight of the entire audience.
While a bit “hammy” at times, particularly when he’s playing to his own personal fan club on stage left, the overall character work is quite dazzling and worthy of the highest mention.
Unfortunately, the biggest detraction this show has to offer is the fact that the audience isn’t going to like some of the language.
It is foul and excessive, but I urge area theatergoers to eschew the sense of principles that seem to pervade the community and understand that the language is used to deliberately and briefly desensitize the audience from some of the hilarious antics that happen over the course of the evening.
Obviously don’t take your children to see this, but this show is such excellent fare that it would be a shame to miss out.
“A Behanding in Spokane” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Sunday only at the Youngstown Playhouse. Call 330-788-8739.