There are so many new musicals that I want to see this season, but when I was in New York last weekend, none of them had started previews yet. So, as I was headed down to see Yank (see my review below), I figured I'd take in that rarity of rarities in my theater-going career, a straight play.
So, I got a ticket to see A Behanding in Spokane. Because I'm a die-hard Martin McDonagh fan? Not really. Because I wanted to see one of the greatest actors of our time, Christopher Walken? Nope. Dear reader, I must confess that I wanted to see Behanding because for years I've had an enormous crush on Sam Rockwell.
It's sort of hard to explain. It's not that he's attractive. ("But, oh, my heart grew active...") He certainly is, although not in a conventional way. Ever since I saw him as the smarmy Guy Fleegman in a movie that has become one of my guiltiest of pleasures, "Galaxy Quest," there's just been something about Rockwell's presence, demeanor, and acting style that just makes my insides melt. So, like a great big fangirl, I giddily made my way to the Schoenfeld Theater to gawk in person and in public at my long-time cinematic crush.
Of course, that meant I had to sit through A Behanding in Spokane. It's not that it's a bad play, it's just not the sort of thing I would normally gravitate toward if it didn't feature by celebrity boyfriend. (Oh, the things we do for love.) Behanding is a pointedly and self-consciously macabre affair involving an itinerant vengeful psychopath on the prowl for his missing left hand. Two small-time cons try to trick him into believing that they have his hand and try to collect the reward money. And havoc ensues.
I have to say, I was laughing pretty hard throughout the show. I'm not overly familiar with McDonagh's oeuvre, but based on Behanding, he would seem to have quite a way with a one-liner, if mostly of the sardonic sort. Christopher Walken gets most of the laughs, and deservedly so. The man is a marvel. I used to think that all those people who did Walken imitations were exaggerating, but based on Walken's line delivery in Behanding, they would actually seem to be toning his tics and mannerisms down. But somehow it works. Walken makes you believe that at any moment he could coolly pull out his gun and pop someone in the head, without the slightest provocation. And that characteristic alone imbues Behanding with an uneasy sense of suspense.
As for my man Rockwell, he can certainly hold his own with Walken. Rockwell plays the hotel clerk at the seedy hotel where Walken's character is staying, and for me he was the most interesting character in the show. The two victims are played by Zoe Kazan and Anthony Mackie, and I've read in numerous places that they are among the most promising actors of their generation, and I guess I'll have to take other people's word for it. (I've only seen Kazan before, in the recent revival of The Seagull, and found her to be one-note whiny as Masha.) To be fair, McDonagh hasn't really given them believable characters to inhabit; they simply act as the unfortunate but underwritten foils for Walken's maleficence.
But Rockwell's character is much better realized, a puzzling mix of cluelessness, bravado, and seeming suicidal tendencies. He's really the only character for whom we get any back story, by way of an in-one, curtain monologue in which he talks about his love affair with a monkey at the local zoo. (But, you know, not in a gross way.) And Rockwell keeps you guessing beyond the final curtain as to whether this guy is warped, evil, or just plain stupid.
So I probably won't be rushing to see any more Martin McDonagh anytime soon. (I'm kind of a weenie when it comes to violence and cruelty, which is why I gave The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore a pass.) But I'll continue to seek out Sam Rockwell, both on the stage and screen. If not [sigh] in life.