Christopher Walken Gets a Hand on Broadway

You’ve never seen such a hilarious absurdist comedy on Broadway as “A Behanding in Spokane.”

Yes, it’s a terrible title. On the other hand, it’s a terrific 90 minutes of stage work by four gifted actors: Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Anthony Mackie, and Zoe Kazan.

Martin McDonagh‘s very odd and very funny play is directed by John Crowley within an inch of its life. I was in Los Angeles during Oscar week when “Behanding” opened, and now I’m the sorrier for it. When I finally caught up with this foursome last night, the theater was alive with electricity.

Of course, “Behanding” is so outrageous and off the wall that it’s not for anyone. Walken plays a sort of momma’s boy thug who is one-handed thanks to a childhood accident. Stationed in a seedy hotel room, he lets word out locally that he’s willing to pay for his missing hand. Mackie and Kazan show up to claim the reward, with mixed results. Rockwell is the hotel’s receptionist.

It isn’t easy to steal a show from Walken, but Rockwell does it. This is thanks to a non sequitir stand up comedy routine McDonagh has written for his character. It’s really a show stopper, a breathless break from the jagged puzzle pieces of the main story. Mark Sam Rockwell down for awards attention.

And Chris Walken? He chews the scenery and spits it out. This is a good thing. Even when he’s over the top, he’s incredibly captivating. Even when he’s telling the tale of his stump, holding the other characters hostage. He has a long bit of a speech on a telephone to his unseen mother in which you’d swear the woman was right in the room. Lovely.

Mackie comes from “The Hurt Locker,” “Half Nelson” and many theater productions. He and Kazan are written as a team, and they are extremely effective. Mackie is the almost-breakthrough star of this decade. He plays outrage with delight and delicacy. And his gift for physical comedy is unexpected after so many dramatic roles.

Broadway is gearing up fast now for its busiest season. Tonight comes the Frank Sinatra musical dance piece by Twyla Tharp called “Come Fly with Me.” There are a dozen shows opening from now through April 30th. The most anticipated include “Red,” an original play about artist Mark Rothko; and a revival of August Wilson’s “Fences,” with Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Mykelti Williamson. Kenny Leon‘s directing that one, and he came backstage last night to congratulate Anthony Mackie on his fine performance.Maybe he knows: Mackie and company will give his group a run for their money come Tony time.

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