Why do I love live theater? Let me count the ways. Okay, wait, let me cut to the chase and just name a couple of things I dig about seeing a good play. Something happens to me—it’s a thing that can also happen with music, and movies, and books but it seems to me this thing happens most strongly at a play. I find myself both in the moment and reflecting back on my life to moments that connect with what’s going on onstage.
Toward that end, a memory came to me as I sat laughing throughout Hyde Park Theatre’s production of A Behanding in Spokane, which features and is directed by Ken Webster. I want to share that memory here. It’s not the first time I’ve told this story, but for those of you who’ve heard it, I hope you’ll agree it’s worth retelling for all the hilarious horror it contains.
A long time ago, I used to date an asshole whose name rhymes with George. We both loved Scrabble and sex, though looking back I can’t say that we truly loved each other. We were also both extremely competitive. He was a wild snob, lording over me the fact that he was educated at Rice and thus somehow (he thought) superior. Me? I’m the scrappy blue-collar type, with that chip on my shoulder that announces that I overcame a lot to learn polysyllabic words.
Nights we spent hunched over the Scrabble board, I admit I rarely won. But times I was winning, boy did this piss off old George. He had this rule that if I did beat him he would only have sex with me if I would then agree to stay awake afterwards—no matter how late it was—and play another round of Scrabble so he could beat me. He was so self-focused, so determined to win, that my needs and feelings never played into his plans. You might think that a desire for stress-free orgasms combined with a need for eight hours of sleep would at least occasionally lead me to throw a game when I was in the lead. But no. I was so fucking stubborn and he was so fucking stubborn that nobody was going to back down.
Why ever did this memory come flooding back while I watched Behanding? Because the show is peopled with some of the most crazy, obstinate, bull-headed characters I’ve seen brought to life in a long time. Everybody has an agenda and even though some of the characters share mutual goals—like, say, staying alive—nobody is willing to cooperate enough to help the other guy out for long.
The play was written by Martin McDonagh, and Ken Webster (artistic director for HPT) has staged two other McDonagh’s plays to rave reviews: The Pillowman and Lonesome West, both of which I loved. If you know McDonagh’s work and Webster’s taste in materials, you won’t be at all surprised to hear the Behanding is both black and blue. For those of you with delicate ears and a distaste for the profane, you’re better off staying home and listening to your Justin Bieber collection. But the rest of you (us)? You will laugh your heiny off at this show. You won’t mind that a suspension of disbelief is necessary throughout—this is an absurd theatre at its comedic finest. I kept thinking that the show is like a very well-written episode of Jerry Springer what with the violence, relationship troubles, bizarre back story, loaded gun, drug dealing, racism and homophobia (do note that these latter two are intentional and are included in the play to raise points about racism and homophobia).
Webster as Carmichael— a dude who has spent decades looking for his missing hand--- is, as ever, wry and dry and hilarious. Michelle Keffer and Aaron Alexander play Marilyn and Toby, a couple of lowlifes ready to sell each other out at the drop of a shoe, and Mical Trejo just about steals the show as a bitter and annoyed hotel receptionist who hates his title and his lot in life and is delighted at the prospect of taking the others down with him.
I most enjoyed a monologue later in the 90-minute show when Carmichael starts in on his philosophy about the shoes we wear and what they might represent. What will be the last pair of shoes you ever put on? You’ll be thinking about that question and plenty more by the time the show is over.
A Behanding in Spokane plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm at Hyde Park Theatre. Call 512-479-PLAY to reserve seats.