Christopher Walken gives the single most enjoyable performance I’ve ever seen him give, bar none, in A Behanding in Spokane, which I caught yesterday afternoon. It’s a classic “Walken performance” par excellence — hilarious, bent, brilliant, a hoot. The play’s (i.e., Martin McDonaugh‘s) humor is dark and perverse and most definitely around the bend, but in a Quentin Tarantino/Pulp Fiction-y sense, to some extent.
The pisshead critics who’ve dismissed Behanding for lacking soul and gravitas aren’t deluded, but they’re under-value-ing (or discounting) the delicious whack factor.
The audience was laughing all through it. Really laughing, I mean. And we’re talking about a mostly Saturday Night Live crowd — i.e., people in bizarrely-patterned sweaters and easy-fit jeans and ugly Nike shoes who showed up, I’m guessing, because of Walken’s numerous hosting gigs on that show over the years, and because of that Fat Boy Slim video. It’s a play for people who love hamburgers and potato salad, not arugula and foie gras. I realize that I put down the hamburger-and-potato-salad crowd (i.e., Joe Popcorn) all the time, but Behanding put me in a different frame of mind. I guess it’s really a play for the hamburger-and-foie gras demo…how about that?
Some audience members may have attended because they loved Walken’s scene with Dennis Hopper in True Romance, or because of his oddly or crazily enjoyable turns in King of New York , At Close Range or Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead. But not many, I’m guessing.
Sam Rockwell, playing an intellectually-challenged hotel clerk, seems to quietly snicker his way through the show. He’s in the role and in the play in a serious thespian sense, but he’s having such a good time it’s like he’s almost goofing off besides, and it’s infectious. You’re with him. Zoe Kazan and Anthony Mackie portray clueless con artists — not that interesting on the page — but they bring a certain firecracker farce quality. The play is that much more charged because of them.
A Behanding in Spokane isn’t about all that much. If anything it’s about how we’re all stuck in our own realms, caught up with our pasts, pissed off, looking to settle scores, keeping ourselves from living in the here-and-now. That theme is there, but the play itself is pure dark-assed entertainment. You go out on a high. Money well spent.