Seen and Heard

Seen on Broadway: The broken footlights and torn linen curtain at the Schoenfeld announce that Ireland’s Martin McDonagh, the provocateur behind The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and The Pillowman has returned, this time with his first America-set play. It’s hard to think of a better match for McDonagh’s macabre sense of humor than Christopher Walken, who has metamorphosed into a ghoulish clown over the years, and the actor is the best reason to see A Behanding in Spokane. The way he says “Hi, Mom!” at the top of the show has the audience in hysterics, and he brings delightfully eccentric inflections to practically every line he has over the course of its 90 minutes.

The laughter is essential, covering as it does the slightness of the play. McDonagh’s past successes were genuinely shocking-funny; this one, with Walken’s lifelong quest for his chopped-off hand mixing him up with two inept thieves (Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan) in a seedy hotel room, is more calculated, particularly when the gonzo clerk (Sam Rockwell) delivers a long monologue about high school shootings, among other button-pushing issues. The race baiting gets tiresome, too, as does the lack of any compelling underlying theme. John Crowley directs for effect rather than meaning, however, and when the show threatens to meander the actors punch it across.

The design is however unerringly decrepit. Scott Pask has come up with the saddest-looking hotel room in recent memory, a place that looks as if it could go up in flames in minutes, which is not unintentional. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting, including signage visible through the window, wreathes rather than bathes it, and gives the staging a mock-funereal look. Pask’s costumes and David Van Tieghem’s music and sound design reinforce the notion of lives on the precipice, the usual haunt of McDonagh’s tortured, talkative souls. Fair warning for the sensitive who may have wandered in unaware of the playwright’s modus operandi: There are four credits for prosthetics sculpting, and all hands were needed for the task. A Behanding in Spokane runs through June 6.

Seen Off Broadway: I always like when rain falls onstage, and Andrew Bovell’s When the Rain Stops Falling, an Australian import at the Mitzi E. Newhouse at Lincoln Center, begins with a doozy of a thunderstorm—without any precipitation. The play hasn’t really even started and already we’ve been treated to a tour-de-force by set designer David Korins (who has hung cloud-like plastic sheets on the theater ceiling), LD Tyler Micoleau (the lighting instruments are mounted amidst the sheets, and give off a consistently gray cast), and sound designer Fitz Patton, who has contributed consistently unnerving thunderclaps. (Josh Schmidt wrote the accompanying music.)

Fair warning for those wanting to be surprised: Skip the family tree in the Playbill and maybe the actors’ bios, though both are helpful afterwards. This is one of those everyone-is-somehow-connected melodramas, whose author adapted one of his earlier plays into one of the better films in this vein, 2001’s Lantana. It begins in 2039, when the fish-less seas are flooding the world due to global warming, then moves back and forth between England and Australia and the year 1959, as personal tragedies brew. Suffice it to say it’s complicated, but the storyline rewards patience, and director David Cromer (of the very different saga Our Town) has wisely decided to stage the two-hour show without an intermission. Among those spilling family secrets across the centuries are Victoria Clark and Mary Beth Hurt, leading a strong cast, which includes one lone, last fish.

Sorting it all out are Clint Ramos’ period costumes (of greater constraint in the repressive mid-20th century) and Korins’ set. Décor-wise there’s not much to it except for a dining table and other furniture, but it’s all on two rotating circular platforms (above an interestingly patterned floor) that create a sensation of travel through time and place that carry the schematic, yet moving, When the Rain Stops Falling through the ages.

Travel through time, and changing mores regarding homosexuality, is the MCC Theater production of The Pride, a British import at the Lucille Lortel through March 28. In 1958, Philip (Hugh Dancy) is drawn to children’s book author Oliver (Ben Whishaw), an attraction that his frustrated wife, illustrator Sylvia (Andrea Riseborough), comprehends more clearly than he does. Fifty years later, a promiscuous Oliver, a freelance magazine writer, frustrates wavering boyfriend Philip with his infidelity, as Oliver’s BFF, Sylvia, tries to break free of his constant neediness. Playing other, more broadly sketched characters in their lives is Adam James, as Alexi Kaye Campbell’s engrossing play examines the miseries of repression and the uncertainties that liberation brings. Under Joe Mantello’s direction, the actors are at the top of the game, none more than Whishaw, whose Olivers never quite fit society’s norm; his final, lengthy scene with Philip in 1958 is a small masterpiece of attraction, repulsion, and recrimination.

In the first act, David Zinn has cleverly delineated the fifty-year gap with mid-century furniture that looks current, and then retro, depending on where we are; the second brings an abstracted park setting that also serves as various offices. I wasn’t expecting as much color as Paul Gallo provided in his lighting, but what is there is used subtly, to gently accent key emotional moments, much in the way Justin Ellington’s score is utilized. (The fine sound design is by Jill B.C. DuBoff.) Mattie Ullrich’s costumes faultlessly span the time barrier in a show whose emotional history nicely complements the social history of The Temperamentals, which is playing Off Broadway at New World Stages.

Equipment Vendors

A Behanding in Spokane

Scenery Construction: Showmotion Inc.
Lighting Equipment: PRG
Audio Equipment: Masque Sound

When the Rain Stops Falling

Scenery: PRG Scenic Technologies
Lighting Equipment: Hudson Sound and Light LLC
Audio Equipment: Masque Sound

The Pride

Scenic Construction: Capital Scenic, Inc.
Lighting Equipment: PRG
Audio Equipment: Masque Sound

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