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A Behanding in Spokane

Christopher Walken gives a masterful performance in Martin McDonagh's new play about a man searching for his missing hand.

Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell
in A Behanding in Spokane
(© Joan Marcus)
Christopher Walken has built a career of playing characters who look as if they're capable of doing almost anything with no remorse whatsoever. And audiences love him for it. They're also going to love him -- vociferously -- in Martin McDonagh's new play, A Behanding in Spokane, now at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

They may not love the play, however. Under John Crowley's direction, the work is little more than a not very resonant, occasionally macabre sketch that lapses and regains momentum.

In the play -- the first McDonagh has set in America -- Walken plays a man identified as Carmichael, who, at 17, had his left hand severed by a gang of "hillbillies" and who, 47 years later and after having long ago ripped the faces off those assailants, is still searching for the missing appendage. Now he's holed up in a dingy hotel room (Scott Pask did the cracked ceiling-depressing wallpaper honors), with low-rent lovers Toby (Anthony Mackie) and Marilyn (Zoe Kazan) who have been promised five hundred dollars if they'll bring him the lost paw he's sure is somewhere nearby.

Instead, the couple brings him a hand clearly not his, whereupon he threatens to kill them if -- after heading to their garage to retrieve the supposed genuine hand -- he comes back, uh, empty-handed. Before he exits, he shackles the quivering duo to the room's two heating pipes, while across the room a candle burns down over a can of gasoline. Soon, they're discovered by the hotel's only other occupant, nosy, dim-witted receptionist Mervyn (Sam Rockwell).

Presenting Carmichael with a cagey will-he-or-won't-he attitude, Walken holds spectators in the palm of his hand. He hits his peak during a late-in-the-play telephone conversation with his mother who, it seems, has broken both ankles falling out of a tree from which she was trying to free a balloon. The time it takes for Walken to complete the hilarious call is all the time needed to reveal an actor working at the top of his carefully defined form.

The rest of the cast plays along effectively. Kazan does some neat scene-stealing, especially in a sequence where she vamps Mervyn; Mackie's nervous-as-a-tic Toby matches some of McDonagh's previous ineffectuals; and Rockwell's Mervyn captures the self-satisfied blockheads McDonagh has thrust forward elsewhere. He also enlivens a curious front-of-torn-show-curtain monologue about monkeys.

But ultimately, A Behanding in Spokane feels as if McDonagh wrote it with one hand tied behind his back.