(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)
Sean Derry, the artistic director of none too fragile theater, is known for his love of off-the-wall scripts and characters. He fears no plots, language or the macabre. In Martin McDonagh, the author of none too fragile's latest brain teaser, A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE, he has met his mate.
McDonagh, who is the first dramatist since Shakespeare to have four works professionally produced on London stages in a single season, has won every major British theatre and film writing award.
McDonagh, who is considered by some to be the most important living Irish stage and film writer, is fascinated with wretched, ill fated, jaded, obsessive characters. These malcontents are often liars with imaginations that know no limits. They flourish in self-mythology and are usually self-destructive.
The playwright also has no regard for the word police. He peppers his scripts with language that can make some audience members cringe. He makes playwright David Mamet (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, SPEED-THE-PLOW), noted for his constant use of profanity and vivid words, appear almost to be a member of the clean mouth club.
In BEHANDING IN SPOKANE, for example, words like hillbilly, fag, and fu***in' are spoken freely. I stopped counting after the first fifty motherfu**ers and twenty uses of niggers. If you aren't offended yet, there's a fight in which the characters throw multiple numbers of severed hands at each other. It's like a macabre pillow fight of digits. Some of the bloody fists bounce off audience members as some observers are seated within three feet of the action.
A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE is McDonagh's first play set in America. It opened in New York in 2010. The king of mean, actor Christopher Walken, was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of the leading.
The none too fragile theatre is a 65-seat black box, which is cramped, the seating is close, and no one is more than 10 feet from the thrust stage. It's a perfect venue for McDonagh's grizzly dark comedy.
The lights come up on a seedy hotel room where Carmichel, an unkempt, wild-eyed, hair-a-mess middle aged man is sitting on the bed. Within seconds a noise comes from the closet, Carmichel throws open the door, whips out a gun, shoots, slams the closet door closed, and we are assured that "nothing good can come from this!"
In the next seventy-five minutes we are exposed to a can of gasoline, a candle, handcuffs, a gun, racial and sexual terms, drugs, and lots of questions over what's going on. Overriding all of this is the query, What was the author's purpose in penning this bizarre script?
We meet an interracial couple, a stoned main desk clerk, Carmichel's mother (via several telephone calls), see near deaths, view Twinkies being consumed, and view an unexpected and bizarre ending.
The none too fragile's production hits the audience on various levels. Some laugh hysterically, others sit in shock, still others seem to turn off the entire action and go inward with no means to escape the intermissionless exercise. The reaction centers on what each person perceives to be going on and/or how much liquor they have had before and during the show. (Each production starts with an introduction, the director handing out free shots, and waitresses taking drink orders.)
Michael Regnier is quite adequate as Carmichael. He is not as menacing as Christopher Walken, nor as crazed as the role calls for, but he gets his point across. It would have been fascinating to see the director, Sean Derry, play the role as this is the kind of part that he does so well.
Nick Yurick, as the desk clerk who spends part of the play shaving his knuckles and fingers, is properly spacey, but not always believable.
Brian Kenneth Armour, as the emotional Toby, an African American low level drug dispenser and wheeler dealer, is spot on. His pretend macho, yet crying jag portrayal, is nicely honed.
Kelly Strand as Marilyn, Toby's air-headed girl friend, is out and out funny and convincing.
Capsule judgement: none too fragile's A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE is definitely not for everyone. If you have a macabre sense of humor, have a high tolerance for swearing and offensive stereotypes, you will really get into this show. Others may be so offended and/or confused their only wish would be for the final lights out. Which one are you?