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Spokane lends handy rhyme to grisly tale

Sun., April 18, 2010

On the surface, gallivanting across the vast US of A to watch a play about a guy searching for his lost left hand sounds like a pretty dimwitted thing to do.

But this is no ordinary missing-hand tale, my friends.

Oh, no.

For starters, the dude with the absentee appendage is played by none other than that beloved icon of stage and screen, Christopher Walken.

Plus, the aforementioned play may be the first Broadway show title to contain the Lilac City’s official moniker.

So the real question is …

Why would any self-respecting resident of Washington’s second-largest city NOT go to Manhattan to see “A Behanding In Spokane”?

And so on a Tuesday night in late March, my lovely wife, Sherry, and I entered the dim if slightly shabby Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on West 45th.

Rodger the usher led us to our seats near the front of the house. Unable to contain my civic excitement, I told the young hipster we had come all the way from Spokane.

Rodger rewarded me the same bemused look that Sheriff Andy used to give Barney Fife.

True, Spokane is “in the title,” Rodger conceded. “But it doesn’t really serve the plot.”

I had heard that before, of course. Playwright Martin McDonagh supposedly chose “Spokane” for no other reason than the rhyming way it worked with his “Behanding” title.

Which is all well and fine. But what a sophisticated New York usher like Rodger couldn’t know is that those who dwell in my hometown are starved for any scrap of positive attention we can grab.

Sure, Spokane has received plenty of national limelight over the years.

Unfortunately it’s been because of gay/not gay mayors, visiting Republican cross-dressers, barista-flashing cops and Gypsy curses.

Oh, and Kevin Coe.

So in contrast to our usual notoriety, having “Spokane” appear on the marquee of an honest-to-gawd Broadway production (even one about a missing hand) is tantamount to winning “American Idol,” or at least the Nobel Peace Prize.

As for the play, well …

It ain’t exactly “The Sound of Music.”

They didn’t spend a lot of money on set changes. All of “Behanding” takes place in a seedy hotel room where Walken’s character is trying to broker a deal with a shifty hustler and his screechy girlfriend to buy back that long-lost hand.

There’s a lot of yelling, plenty of profanity and some vile racial slurs.

That’s right. It’s a comedy.

But despite the minimalism and twisted theme, it features Walken at his weird and twitchy best – which is more fun than a squirrel riding a monkey. Christopher Walken could read the daily farm report and make it hilarious.

As he explains early on, while growing up in Spokane he was jumped by “six hillbillies” who held his left hand over a railroad track until a train came along and lopped it right off.

Hmm. I see what Rodger meant.

Despite all of our warts, Spokane is not known as a hillbilly haven.

This sounds a lot more like “A Behanding In Stevens County.”

Anyway, Walken claimed to have been looking for his hand for the last 47 years. I don’t want to give anything away, but the scope of Walken’s search becomes more apparent when the grisly contents of his suitcase spill across the stage.

All in all, we had a wonderful time at the theater. Actor Sam Rockwell is in the play, and he’s pretty quirky, too.

Always the ambassador for my city, I brought a souvenir Spokane T-shirt to present to Walken after the play.

At least that was the plan.

After shelling out 200 bucks for a signed “Behanding” poster, my attempt to carry the shirt to the stage was thwarted by a large and looming gentleman who suddenly appeared at my side.

He asked me where I thought I was going.

Far be it from me to cast any Big Apple stereotypes. But as I looked at the guy the term “mobbed up” just popped into my mind.

He took my gift. He told me he would get it to Walken.

What’s an out-of-towner to do?

As we left the theater, another one of those colorful New York terms came to me.

What was it? Oh, yeah.


Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman- Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at dougc@


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