Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Keegan Theatre A Behanding in Spokane

By • Mar 20th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
A Behanding in Spokane
Keegan Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Church Street Theater, Washington DC
Through April 6th
95 minutes, without intemrission
$25/$30 Seniors, Students
Reviewed March 19th, 2013

Playwright Martin McDonagh succeeds in writing, and the actors in Keegan Theatre’s cast succeed in delivering, wonderfully fluent and intelligently-written lines for the four characters in A Behanding in Spokane, not one of whom is even remotely a bright bulb. Filled with extended n-word and mf-word riffs worthy of a late-night standup routine, the play gleefully uses its absurdist premise to take on the craziness of racial and gender relations. “Uproariously funny” aptly describes the result; the audience was, indeed, in an uproar of laughter from start to finish.

The setup is this: Carmichael (Mark Rhea), a homicidally-inclined low life, is continuing a 27-year quest for his hand. It was severed, he says, by six hillbillies who placed it on a railroad track as a train was coming by. The hillbillies then waved goodbye to him, with his own hand, from a distance. Ever since, Carmichael has been searching for it around the country, with the obsessiveness of a down-and-out knight doggedly seeking the Holy Grail. Getting wind of his search, Marilyn (Laura Herren) and her black boyfriend Toby (Manu Kumasi) concoct a scheme to palm off on Charmichael, for $500, the hand of an Australian Aborigine lifted from a local museum. Charmichael is distinctly not amused, putting the foolish couple at peril for their lives.

The fourth member of McDonagh’s strung-out quartet is Mervyn, the receptionist in the hotel where the action takes place (Bradley Foster Smith). Nosy and suspicious, resentful of perceived assaults on his dignity, and arguably an even odder creature than the others, Smith’s Mervyn gets one of the show’s two best monologues, having to do with monkeys and high school massacres. Playing perhaps the most thoroughly lost of these meandering souls, Smith also creates a poignant moment or two for his character.

The other outstanding monologue belongs to Rhea, as Carmichael talks at length to his equally unbalanced mother, having to explain, among other things, that the fact that he has a black man in his hotel room does not mean that his racism has lapsed. Reminiscent of Coen brothers-style characters, Rhea’s Carmichael can be perfectly straightforward and even logical-sounding in his explanations of his absurd quest and his murderous intentions.

Focused on saving their respective skins, the bumbling con artists Toby and Marilyn try various unsuccessful ways of talking their way out of their unhappy situation, readily blaming one another for their plight, in the Laurel and Hardy “here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into” tradition. Kumasi’s Toby tries bravado and fast talk; Herren’s Marilyn tries cuteness; nothing much works, and McDonagh makes sure that each of their attempts at extricating themselves only digs them deeper into trouble.

Director Colin Smith keeps the characters distinct, the ensemble playing smooth, the timing crisp, and the physical comedy flowing (my favorite bits were the volleys of shoes and other objects Toby and Marilyn, while handcuffed to the radiator, chuck at a candle Carmichael has placed in a gasoline can while he has left the room). Smith also designed the set, a seedy hotel room complete with torn and stained wallpaper, peeling paint on the radiator, and a smudgy window through which characters exit to a fire escape. Carol Baker and Katrina Wiskup also deserve credit for believable set dressings (especially worn-looking bedding and an obsolete phone) and excellent, well-used hand props.

Photo Gallery

Manu Kumasi, Mark A. Rhea, Laura Herren Bradley Foster Smith
Manu Kumasi, Mark A. Rhea, Laura Herren
Bradley Foster Smith
Bradley Foster Smith Bradley Foster Smith, Mark A. Rhea
Bradley Foster Smith
Bradley Foster Smith, Mark A. Rhea
Mark A. Rhea
Mark A. Rhea

Photos by C. Stanley Photography


  • Laura Herren: Marilyn
  • Manu Kumasi: Toby
  • Mark A. Rhea: Carmichael
  • Bradley Foster Smith: Mervyn

Production Staff

  • Director: Colin Smith
  • Assistant Director: Sheri S. Herren
  • Production Manager: Michael Innocenti
  • Production Assistant: Stacey Kruml
  • Co- Stage Manager: Dan Deiter
  • Co- Stage Manager: Alexis J. Rose
  • Set Design: Colin Smith
  • Master Carpenter: Eric Lucas
  • Scenic Artist: Bradley Foster Smith
  • Set Dressing and Properties Design: Carol Floretta H. Baker
  • Assistant Set Dressing: Katrina Wiskup
  • Lighting Design: Megan Thrift
  • Lighting Crew: Dan Deiter
  • Lighting Interns: Alex Hargitt, Robert Helvey
  • Sound Design: Tony Angelini
  • Costume Design: Kelly Peacock
  • Hair and Makeup Design: Craig Miller

Disclaimer: Keegan Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.

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