They’re there from the beginning. Mr. Walken’s Carmichael is missing his left hand, stolen by rednecks 47 years earlier, and a couple of small-time crooks trying to make some cash have offered to sell it back to him. One of them is locked in the closet, whimpering (at least until Carmichael shoots him, or near him), and the other is out getting the hand—which turns out to have been stolen from a local museum, an aboriginal hand that clearly didn’t come from the pale (and, as it turns out, racist) Carmichael.
Things go badly wrong, as they tend to, and life-threatening hijinks ensue, abetted by the hotel clerk (a brilliant Sam Rockwell), who disdains his job, hopes for some drama in his life and has a bit of a crush on Marilyn (Zoe Kazan, a bit screechy), the female half of the con-artist couple. There is also Marilyn’s African-American boyfriend, Toby (Anthony Mackie), who tries to talk tough but frequently breaks down in tears, and offstage, Carmichael’s mother, a porn-loving racist who may or may not have broken ankles, who phones a few times.
A Behanding in Spokane is laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s also a bit disappointing. Unlike many of Mr. McDonagh’s earlier works, equally funny and typically gorier, it doesn’t seem to have any deeper point than the comedy. It’s also the first time he has set a play in the United States, which I think detracts: The skewed worlds he creates make sense on a remote, fog-shrouded Irish island; in a nondescript American city, the unreality bumps up against reality. And he doesn’t quite have an ear for American dialect: His working-class grafters use plenty of “ain’ts,” but they also use a few “mightn’ts.”
But Mr. Walken does his Walken thing marvelously and, for this play, perfectly. Mr. Rockwell is a smart-ass, manic delight. And Mr. McDonagh keeps the audience laughing. He has delivered more before, and he will again, but A Behanding in Spokane is simply an entertainment. And, in the end, for that he deserves a hand.
THERE’S NO PARTICULAR REASON you would want to see The Miracle Worker, which was revived at Circle in the Square last week. You know the story; you know how it ends. (Wa-wa!) And William Gibson’s play, first produced on Broadway in 1959 and adapted from a TV drama he’d written two years earlier—it subsequently became a feature film and then two more TV movies—only occasionally rises to the level of a good after-school special.
But there’s Abigail Breslin. The 14-year-old Little Miss Sunshine star is spectacular. In more than two hours onstage as the blind, deaf-mute Helen Keller, she never gets to say a word. But her acting is sensitive and profound and beautifully conveys Helen’s intelligence, frustration, alienation and the joy she gets from occasional bits of comprehension. It would be easy for Helen to be a caricature, a lurching, grunting wild child, but in Miss Breslin’s hands she’s not; she’s a person, a horribly frustrated person.
Annie Sullivan (played here by a fine Allison Pill) saved Keller. Miss Breslin, as Keller, saves this show.
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