In this interview, Christopher Walken says he told his agent that he wanted to play a wholesome family man. Instead, in A Behanding in Spokane he stars as one-handed Carmichael, a racist homophobe with a very macabre hobby.
As a birthday treat, I was lucky enough to see Walken in his first appearance on Broadway in a decade in the premiere of Martin McDonagh‘s latest play. According to the interview with McDonagh in the program, Walken was the last actor to be cast – which I find amazing as the play revolves around his performance. I can’t think of anyone else who could carry off the mixture of menace and dark humour which is so necessary for the part as well as Walken.
In the opening scene Walken makes you laugh despite the fact that you think Carmichael has shot someone in the head, in a similar way that Fargo or Pulp Fiction make you uncomfortable at laughing at appalling acts of violence.
To see how he manages this in his own inimitable style, just watch Walken reading the lyrics of Lady Gaga’s Pokerface on the Jonathan Ross show:
(Off course, YouTube than had a Lady Gaga/Walken mashup.)
In the play, Carmichael has been searching for his hand for 47 years after it was allegedly chopped off by hillbillies in Spokane, Washington, who then use it to wave goodbye. I say allegedly because it is unclear what is the truth and what is delusion in the stories that we hear from any of the characters – Carmichael, the weed dealers and con artists played by Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan or the hotel receptionist, who doesn’t like being called a receptionist, played by Sam Rockwell.
Ultimately, I think is where the play falls down. It is ninety minutes of very dark humour but once the shock and the laughter- and there is plenty of both – die down, you are not left with anything more profound about the characters or the situation they find themselves in.
I guess it would be unfair to expect a play about a one-handed sociopath to say something deep about the world and it is still worth going to see as you get a fantastic performance by an actor who is unlike anyone else and for 90 minutes you do manage to suspend disbelief in a plot that is unlike anything else I have ever seen.