A Behanding in Spokane
by Martin McDonagh
Black Comedy, 46 pages
"They waved the boy goodbye with his own hand." - Carmichael
Martin McDonagh is an Irish playwright known for his edgy, original voice and film noir-esque style. Most of his plays are set in Ireland and A Behanding in Spokane is, in fact, his first play set in America. The story centers on two out-of-their-league con artists trying to pull a fast one on a longtime killer - a killer who claims he lost his left hand 27 years ago and now just wants to get back what is rightfully his.
The premise is ridiculous, almost farcical, and from the outset it's evident that the play is going to be filled with twists and turns. It opens with Carmichael, the behanded, in a grungy hotel room, and he soon shoots a gun at an unseen victim in his closet. Yet I didn't hate him as he quickly called his mother and came across as rather empathetic. A few pages later, four to be exact, it's revealed that Carmichael didn't actually shoot Toby; he shot his gun next to Toby's head, and Toby fainted. While I didn't like Carmichael, these two elements helped to get me more on his side. I was invested in him.
Surprisingly, even when it was revealed that Carmichael had children's severed hands in his suitcase, I didn't turn against him. McDonagh gifted Carmichael with an intriguing monologue about how he lost his hand due, essentially, to bullying. The story doesn't fully hold up, but it let me know that Carmichael viewed himself as a victim, and I wanted him to succeed.
The story overall is quite quick-paced, in a large part due to the banter between Toby and Marilyn, the boyfriend and girlfriend would-be scammers. An example:
Toby: "We don't even have a refrigerator." We have a... deep-freeze... thing. Don't we?
Marilyn: But that's out in the garage.
Toby: Yes, it's out in the garage. Out in the garage is where I keep the excess hands.
Marilyn: The deep-freeze is broken.
Toby: I know the deep-freeze is broken.
Marilyn: So you're gonna keep a buncha excess hands in a broken deep-freeze?
Marilyn and Toby get caught up fighting with each other and cannot even work together long enough to get themselves out of a deadly situation. Because of this, I don't feel for them and am able to stay aligned with Carmichael, the anti-hero of the piece.
My biggest takeaway from A Behanding in Spokane is that, even in a story in which everyone lies and there are no good people, skillful writing will keep me invested in the characters. It was a fast read, and the pages kept turning.