A “black comedy” is defined as “a comedy dealing with unpleasant subjects” and, solo or en masse, those are the subjects definitely dealt with in “A Behanding in Spokane,” the pitch black comedy which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Firehouse Theatre.
I am sure there are those who will try to make sense out of the infinitely skewed characters and situations in this work by Irish playwright Martin Mcdonagh.
These would not be those who have seen any — or all — of Mccdonagh’s earlier plays, the best known being ”The Beauty Queen of Lenane,” “The Cripple of Inishmann” and “The Pillowman.” The last is definitely not a comedy. The “Cripple” recently played on Broadway with “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe in the title role.
All this to say that even though Mcdonagh’s plays have not been in the top 10 for community theaters to produce, they should be among the top 10 for audiences whenever they have the opportunity to see one.
Now back to the “Behanding,”which features an incredibly disgruntled protagonist, Carmichael (played with increasingly frustrated intensity by Mark Moriarty), who has been searching for his missing left hand for 27 years. He waits now in a seedy motel room for its possible return.
Promising to make this happen are a pair of bumbling lovers/petty crooks, Marilyn (Lisa Tuholski) and Toby (Jessie Lott Jr.), who have answered Carmichael’s offer of $500 for the return of his hand, planning to take the money, return a very mismatched hand and run.
Of course, their plan backfires with darkly hilarious complications, none of which are made simpler by the mind-boggling aid/interference of the hotel desk clerk Mervyn (Casey St. Aubin). A poster adult for ADD, Mervyn skips from one topic to another in his meandering chain-of-consciousness monologues, never staying focused for more than a few sentences on each one and twitching incessantly.
Add a “digitally-stuffed” suitcase, a do-it-yourself bomb (which on opening night resulted in one of the evening’s most prolonged — and unintentional — laughs), and a mother (Carmichael’s) whose frantic calls only exacerbate the situation and you have an evening of black comedy during which it is difficult to stop laughing even when feeling a bit guilty for doing so.
The proximity of the actors (St. Aubin delivers one speech walking through the audience) only increases the absurdity of their plight as does their ability to play straight every ridiculously convoluted segment.
Fast-paced direction by Tucker Curtis allows little time for logical dissection of the plot and/or the characters. There is only time to sit back and enjoy it. Logic can come later.
NOTE: Strong language, especially the use of the f word and the n word, is extreme throughout.
“A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in The Firehouse Theatre, 701 Portage Ave. South Bend. It is performed without intermission. For reservations, call (574) 234=1112.