If you are mesmerized by Christopher Walken (and I don't think I could love anyone who isn't), the sight of him in the ratty hotel room is immediately interesting.
He is sitting on the edge of a bed in a black coat and a stump where his left hand belongs. Entire essays could be written about his hair, a blond-gray pageboy with an upsweep and a puff. A flicker of unexplained amusement - one of an unknowable number of inexplicable rogue thoughts - passes his reptile eyes. And when he gets up to shoot whatever is making noise in the closet, we notice he wears his pants too high and too short.
The matchup of Walken, unpredictably creepy American actor, and Martin McDonagh, virtuosically gruesome Irish playwright, has finally occurred. And it's as perfect a frisson as it always was meant to be - except for one problem.
The play is really not good. "A Behanding in Spokane," the 90-minute McDonagh world premiere that lured Walken back for a rare stage appearance, is so thin, trivial and underdeveloped that the humor depends on two separate scenes of characters throwing severed hands at one another.
And yet . . . there is the genuine thrill of watching Walken's feline dancer-grace, his weird jazz rhythms, the way he can snarl his nostrils around McDonagh's odd locutions until we almost believe they are as hilarious as Tuesday's preview audience clearly did.
Instead of writing Gothic satire about the Irish hinterlands, McDonagh puts Walken, Sam Rockwell, Anthony Mackie and Zoe Kazan in a seedy hotel in the American hinterlands. The enticing cast has been directed by John Crowley, with the same design team he used for "The Pillowman," McDonagh's brilliant and truly disturbing political mystery that starred Jeff Goldblum on Broadway in 2006.
This one is more of an extended sketch for a shaggy-dog cartoon. Walken plays a traveler, a searcher and proud racist who claims six hillbillies cut off his hand 47 years ago, then waved goodbye with his own hand. Mackie and Kazan play a racially mixed couple of losers who try to scam him. All the usual insult words are said, over and over, as if repeating them made them funnier.
Rockwell plays the hotel "receptionist guy" who loves gibbons too much and, in one intriguing surprise, briefly turns into an emcee/narrator from old-time vaudeville. "What if a guy checks in who got one hand," he asks, "where's a story like that gonna go?" Without Walken, nowhere.
"A Behanding in Spokane"
Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., Manhattan
$61.50-$116.50; 212-239- 6200; abehandinginspokane.com
Having a good time at a very bad play