A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE at SF Playhouse a stunner

Carmichael (Rod Gnapp) handcuffs Toby (Daveed Digs) and Marilyn (Melissa Quine) to radiator while he goes to retrieve his hand. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE: Macabre Comedy by Martin McDonagh, directed by Susi Damilano. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. 415-677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org. May 15 –June 30, 2012-05-19

Along with death and taxes being inevitable, if there is play that has a menacing character it is inexorable that Rod Gnapp will be cast in the role. Also if there is a play with a menacing character the chances are great that it will appear on the SF Playhouse stage.

In A Behanding in Spokane, Martin McDonagh’s latest thriller, the main character (one would hesitate to call him a protagonist but he sort of is) happens to be Carmichael, a man obsessed with the loss of his hand. Unlike McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore where buckets of blood were shed, no blood is shed but there are a plethora of hands ending up strewn about the stage and it gets a startled laugh from the audience. The humor is so grotesque and dark one might hesitate to laugh, but you won’t be able to stifle the impulse.

McDonagh’s characters inhabit the lowest rungs of the social scale and he must have taken lessons from David Mamet in the use of the F-word. That word is appropriate for the story line and never (well hardly) offends. Gnapp’s superlative gritty performance as the one-handed Carmichael, the great support from the other three cast members and Susi Damilano’s unwavering direction creates a taut 90 minute evening that must be seen to be believed.

McDonagh’s spooky narrative unfolds in a shabby hotel room (Again, a great Bill English set) rented by Carmichael and a place of horror for the not too bright low-life drug dealers Toby (Daveed Digsgs) and Marilyn (Melissa Quine). Could there be anything worse than someone waving goodbye to you with your own hand? Carmichael doesn’t think so especially since that hand was amputated by a train when a bunch of hillbillies did that dastardly deed 27 years ago (You might question the plausibility of Spokane hillbillies ) and he has been searching for the hand ever since.

The humorous horror begins with Carmichael firing a shot into a closet where poor Toby is tied up. For a finder’s fee of $500 black Toby and white Marilyn try to rip off Carmichael with a hand purloined from a museum. Not a bright idea since Carmichael is a white racist (he takes after his mother) and the hand is black. Speaking of the mother, she becomes a fully rounded character through a telephone conversation with her son. Gnapp nails that bit and there is no doubt where and when Carmichael gained his perverted personality.

The gunshot brings Mervyn (Alex Hurt) the room clerk to the room. Hurt who is a transplant from New York City gives a monolog that is beautifully under played labeling him as equally dysfunctional as the rest of the cast. His name will surely become known in the Bay Area.

Gnapp is the star of this show but Daveed Diggs, Melissa Quine and Alex Hurt do not have to take a back seat to his brilliance. This gut wrenching/implausible/bizarre/hysterical (pick your own adjective) is an ensemble evening and could be subtitled “One Hand Clapping.”

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com.