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'A Behanding in Spokane' at Hyde Park Theatre

Cate Blouke

He's known for his vivid approach to carnage, for his unflinching portrayal of life's brutal realities. His last film followed a violent rampage through Europe, filled with close-ups of suicide, gun shot wounds and shattered bones. And though this might sound a lot like American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, we're actually talking about Irish playwright Martin McDonagh whose most recent play, "A Behanding in Spokane," opens today and will be at Hyde Park Theatre through May 28.

Despite his foray into filmmaking with the 2008 dark comedy, "In Bruges," the body of McDonagh's work can be seen on the stage. He charged onto the international theater scene in the late 1990s with his gripping tale of matricide, "The Beauty Queen of Leenane."

Departing from his usual setting of rural and isolated western Ireland, McDonagh has ventured onto American soil for the first time.

"Behanding" follows the story of Charmichael, a scary and cantankerous fellow who, as you may have guessed, lost his hand in eastern Washington state. However, the behanding occurred nearly 30 years ago, and Charmichael has spent the interim diligently hunting for his missing member.

Though he tracked down the hillbillies responsible for the injury and made them pay for their crime, Charmichael hasn't yet found the hand they took from him. And he badly wants it back — not out of any delusions of re-attachment, but simply because it's his.

In a dingy hotel room in small town America, Charmichael is hoping his search has finally come to an end. A young (and rather naive) couple, Toby and Marilyn, have assured him that they have what he wants, but Charmichael isn't about to be duped.

Walking the tightrope of moral ambiguity, McDonagh's characters are often unsympathetic and unscrupulous, but the plays are inevitably funny. And "Behanding" is no exception.

In Hyde Park Theatre's third production of a McDonagh play, "Behanding's" violence and comedic hijinks are familiar territory. Director and co-star Ken Webster is fond of McDonagh's skillfully composed dialogue, and welcomed the opportunity to produce a play that doesn't require Irish accents. This is the first McDonagh play with a racially diverse cast, and that fact is certainly at the forefront in the script.

Bringing together a racist one-handed criminal with a lachrymose African American drug dealer and his ditzy white girlfriend results in some creative and vituperative turns of phrase. Strong language might be par for the course at Hyde Park, but Webster suspects that "Behanding" might win the prize for F-bombs and racial epithets.

Calling for a prosthetic stump, an open flame on stage and a suitcase full of surprises, the play is also challenging prop-wise. But with a little ingenuity and some help from Houston's Alley Theater (who ran the show last fall), Hyde Park's "Behanding" promises to be a darkly delightful spectacle.

Like many of his other plays, McDonagh's "Behanding in Spokane" illustrates the negative side of serendipity – the occasionally awful consequences of coincidence. The dialogue is fast-paced, funny and vicious, and the characters are excitingly morally dubious.

'A Behanding in Spokane'

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturday through May 28.

Where:Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.

Cost: $19 (Thursdays pay-what-you-can)

Info: 479-7529, www.hydeparktheatre.com