Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Go See A Play

by Nathan Wonder

Martin McDonagh, A Behanding in Spokane

Go see a play.

I recommend seeing a good play. This can be difficult.

If you are in New York, I recommend you see Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane.

"The play is incredibly funny and it’s really dark and it turns in unexpected ways all the time. I think it’s the most surprising comedy I’ve ever read." Zoe Kazan

McDonagh's new dark comedy runs 90 minutes with no intermission, and the play’s comedic and macabre energies, filled with foul language, racism, and violence, propel the audience into a world only he can create.

“It’s not a world I’m completely familiar with and I get a kick out of it.” Edie Falco

McDonagh has had four of his plays nominated for Tony Awards in the Best Play category, notably The Pillowman and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. He is also the writer and director of the film In Bruges which was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Original Screenplay category.

“Any time Martin has a play on in New York it is an event.” Zoe Kazan
A Behanding in Spokane, Christopher Walken, Anthony Mackie, Zoe Kazan

The play had a lot of buzz because of the star-driven cast and the pedigree of the playwright. Christopher Walken, who plays Carmichael, is an American acting legend still at the top of his game. Mervyn is played by Sam Rockwell, whose film credits include Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Frost/Nixon, The Green Mile, and many more while his theatrical credits are even more impressive. Zoe Kazan plays Marilyn. The granddaughter of Elia Kazan, she has made an impressive career for herself both on the big screen in It’s Complicated and as a stage actress and playwright. As Toby, this is Anthony Mackie’s fourth time on Broadway, and his film credits include The Hurt Locker, 8 Mile, and Freedomland.

”From my standpoint it’s about a guy who had his hand chopped off by some villains when he was a teenager and he’s spent the rest of his life looking for his hand.” Chrisopher Walken

The four character play stars Walken as a one-handed man. He encounters a pair of naive con artists who try to sell him what they claim is his hand. Rockwell plays Mervyn, the caretaker of the hotel.

“I’ve never been in a play that got this kind of reaction: the roaring laughter of the crowd and the ovations, it’s just intense to be up there. It’s great I mean we are putting out a lot of energy and we are getting it all back.” Zoe Kazan

The play is thoroughly entertaining with many moments that cause the audience to both laugh and shriek at the same time. It is a tightly-woven story that keeps the audience on edge, always wondering what could possibly happen next.

The play is not without its faults, though. There are a few lines that seem to be written purely for their surface joke value, as noted in the New York Times review by Ben Brantley: “Poor Mr. Mackie is required to describe the hotel room as ‘Hand Central Station.’” Brantley also feels the two con artists are written poorly, as though they are characters from a “Hollywood caper comedy about dopey, foul-mouthed crooks who keep tripping over themselves.” I never felt any of the characters became that broad, but the actors did seem to get lost in the wake of Walken’s “fabled eccentricity” as Brantley puts it.

A Behanding in Spokane, Christopher Walken
“[With] Christopher Walken every day is new, every day is fresh. He’s truly a gem of the acting community.” Anthony Mackie

This is some of Christopher Walken’s finest work. Simultaneously familiar and revelatory, his charismatic creepiness is perfect for the role, which feels as though it was written specifically for Walken’s idiosyncratic line readings (surprisingly, he was actually the last actor cast). From the opening moment with Carmichael sitting alone on the dingy hotel bed staring into space all the way to the final curtain, whenever he is on stage he is a commanding presence. He plays the character with incredible ease and complexity; nothing Carmichael does is either expected or unbelievable. Perhaps the Times reviewer puts it best with: “[Mr. Walken’s] use of his signature arsenal of stylistic oddities has seldom been more enthralling.”

A Behanding in Spokane, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell

The rest of the cast, playing around Walken’s eeriness, serve primarily as foils. Carmichael wants desperately to find his missing hand while Mervyn has no idea what he wants. Carmichael’s energy is a black hole, while the con artists are abuzz with youthful vigor.

“This play is a true broadway experience. It’s a true theatre experience.” Anthony Mackie

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Read This Book

by Sean Flannigan

Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn, 1999

Recently, I went to an event at the Sunset Tavern in which an author I hadn't yet read talked to The Stranger's Paul Constant about his work, his likes and the comic he was writing, about an obscure rarely seen superhero called Omega The Unknown from the mid-seventies. This author's name was Jonathan Lethem, one of a trove of talented New York writers such as two other Jonathans, Safran Foer and Ames, as well as Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Norman Mailer. I enjoyed the talk quite a lot and proceeded afterwards to gather up his books into my collection, my ever burgeoning collection.

Lethem is one of a number a great new writers who are making it OK to give a nod at comics or genre without referring to them as one's "guilty pleasures." These guilty-pleasure-people are insecure about their image and have not given credit where it was due for too many years. Lethem recently completed a ten-issue series of the comic Omega The Unknown, published in 2006, after being offered the chance to write any comic he wanted. Apparently this very obscure superhero made an impact on him as a young man. Omega is an alien prototypical creation with superhuman strength, some psychokinetic powers and a psychic rapport with other organic Protar beings (the race from the planet Protaris in the Regreb System in the Milky Way Galaxy). Pretty cool.

In the realm of full-length genuine literature, he lays claim to many published works, most notably Fortress of Solitude (heavy reference to Superman), Chronic City (most recently) and Motherless Brooklyn (the book I implore you to read).

I would implore you to read Motherless Brooklyn. It is good. The main character/narrator, Lionel Essrog, is a Tourettic New Yorker in the employ of a seedy small-time gangster named Frank Minna at a quote unquote detective agency. Lionel Essrog, whose name itself is a Tourettic linguistic feast, details his past with his fellow Minna Men from their beginnings at home for orphans to the point of Frank Minna's death, from which unfolds a detective story of a wholly different kind. The story at times references Philip Marlowe, the private detective at the center of Raymond Chandler's crime novel The Big Sleep, a highly praised novel which Time thought to put in their 100 Best Novels published after 1923. Lethem obviously recognizes his influences.

This book had me reading it at any two minutes I had available. Lethem's ability to create a world of language around this character for which language is the ultimate compulsion was astounding. This book and this author have joined the ranks of my highest shelf (which is where I keep the books I love the most, and where it will shoulder Milan Kundera, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon and Philip K. Dick). I suggest this book highly and I will be reading further Lethem books myself.