A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE Players by the Sea Theatre Review

Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom [email protected]

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Players by the Sea opened “A Behanding in Spokane,” a black comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, on November 6, 2015 in their studio theatre at 106 North 6th Street in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. It will run through November 21, with performances during Thursday – Saturday at 8:00 pm and on Sunday at 2:00 pm. For reservations, visit playersbythesea.org or call 904-249-0289.

Mr. McDonagh has written nine plays since 1994, and Jacksonville Theatre fans now have the opportunity to see the fourth to be done in this area. Previous plays performed here, all of which received Tony nominations for Best Play, included “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” “The Lonesome West,” and “The Pillowman. “ “A Behanding in Spokane” is his first play set in the United States and, like the other plays mentioned, contains his trademark violence, grim humor, and adult language.

The setting of this one-act play is a modest and somewhat cheerless room. The program described the room as seedy, but as designed by Joe Schwarz, it appears clean inside, and other than a dated rusted radiator and dirty windows with flashing lights outside is presentable.

The occupant is Carmichael, a middle-aged man, who is one-handed. He has been searching for his missing left hand for many years; it was severed as a child when a gang of “hillbillies” held his hand on a railroad track as a train rolled over it. Carmichael has been joined by two small-time drug dealers, con artists Toby and Marilyn, who claim to have found his missing hand and are willing to sell it to him for five hundred dollars. They have in fact stolen the hand from a local museum, and it obviously belonged to a man of color. Their offer infuriates the white, sharp-tongued and volatile Carmichael who is an avowed racist, and he lets loose an outburst of the N-word, directed largely at Toby, who happens to be a black man.

This sets in motion an outrageous plan for retaliation against amateur criminals Toby and Marilyn, his girlfriend. A fourth character, the odd-ball hotel desk clerk Mervyn, helps move things along. But no spoilers here.

Local actor David Sacks is terrific as the obsessed, menacing, and quite mad Carmichael. Mr. Sacks is well known in local theatre circles. He previously appeared at Players in “Urinetown,” where he also produced one of his original plays, and he appeared in Theatre Jacksonville’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

Jereme Raickett, fresh from his outstanding performance as the butler in Players “La Cage aux Folles, is filled with nervous energy and fabulously funny as the out-maneuvered Toby.

The role of the deceptive and not overly bright blonde Marilyn marks the return of Kasi Walters to local stages. She is no stranger to playwright McDonagh’s work, having appeared in Players’ production of “The Lonesome West” in 2011. Ms. Walters won the Best Actress Pelican Award in 2012 for her performance in “Bug.”

Austin Farwell makes his Jacksonville Theatre debut in the role of the hotel clerk, the eccentric loner Mervyn, who is as absurd a character as the others in this show. Farwell has a marvelous monologue that will have you laughing throughout. Mr. Farwell has an impressive acting resume with performances all over the country at such theatres as Seattle Shakespeare, Seattle Public Theatre, and Orlando Shakespeare.

Director Stephanie Natale Frus in her Jacksonville debut as a director has staged the play with a superabundance of energy and has also selected exceptional actors who meet and exceed the exhausting demands of their roles. No stranger to playwright McDonagh, she stage managed his “Lonesome West” here at Players. Ms. Frus had been working in theatre in New York and Pittsburgh previously before to returning to Jacksonville.

The Creative Team included Director Stephanie Natale Frus, Stage Manager Michelle Wiggins, Scenic Designer Joe Schwarz, Lighting Designer Jim Wiggins, Sound Designer Bradley Akers, Costumer Nichole Ignacio, and Dramaturg Holly Gutshall.

With “A Behanding in Spokane,” Players by the Sea has given local theatre another daring production. We found this to be a very funny play and if McDonagh’s sledgehammer use of profanity and racial and homophobic references doesn’t bother you, then it will be an interesting evening of cutting edge theater.



About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.