A one-handed, racist psychopath has searched for his severed hand for the 27 years, and his search brings him to a seedy motel room and two drug dealers.
So begins the Cave Theatre production of “A Behanding in Spokane” by Martin McDonagh. When he was a child, six hillbillies held Carmichael down while a train sliced off his hand. As they ran away with the hand, they turned back just long enough to use it to wave goodbye to the injured boy.
Carmichael’s unending quest to recover his hand has turned him into “a tyrannical sadist,” said freshman theatrical studies major Cody Alexander, who portrays him in the play.
Toby and Marilyn, two drug dealers played by freshman acting and business administration major Keith Overall and junior acting major Jackie Seijo respond to a want ad Carmichael puts out for his hand.
“Toby is in search of a quick and easy come-up or scheme for $500 to be able to take Marilyn and himself to a place more resourceful, fun and pretty than Tarlington, Ariz.,” Overall said.
The couple meets up with Carmichael at a motel in Tarlington for the exchange — the hand for $500. However, things take a turn for the worse when Carmichael discovers that he’s been scammed.
One of the challenges Seijo faced was keeping the sense of urgency, which the show requires.
“The whole time, there is this threat of dying in the most horrible way we could ever imagine,” she said.
Throughout the play, Mervyn, the receptionist played by sophomore telecommunications and theatre studies major Nick Murhling, attempts to play the hero in order to overcome his feelings of worthlessness. However, he instead creates numerous other dilemmas for all involved. He distracts Carmichael from his plans and further complicates them, from his initial goal of retrieving his hand to his punishment of the couple for trying to scam him.
“Throughout the play, we see him trying to budge in on all of the exciting action going on in Carmichael’s room” Murhling said.
Brent Eickhoff, a junior directing and theatre education major, is the director for this performance. He selected this script for its dark comedic elements and described it as “such a bizarre little story” that reveals “a lot of real human emotions under the surface that gives more weight than the show seems to have at first.”
Alexander’s role as Carmichael presented him with a challenge of getting into a whole different mindset, he said. In order to delve into this character type, he studied other representations of psychopaths in performances and also studied serial killer psychology.
For this show, Eickhoff said he is trying to explore the self-assuring lies people tell themselves and how far they will go in their quests for fulfillment. His artistic vision hovered between the realms of the “weirdly ugly” and the “familiarly sad.”
“The set design and costumes help to build this ugly, grungy hotel room that kind of parallels each character’s emptiness, to a certain degree,” he said. “Even within this melancholy world, though, are secrets and suspense, humor and hope.”
In addition to the set and costumes, there are several props in this performance, namely, severed hands that appear throughout the show. Because Carmichael is one-handed, Alexander needed a hand stub. These props set “A Behanding in Spokane” apart from most Cave Theatre performances because they are generally minimalistic.
Seijo said this show satirizes the American dream.
“We’re always reaching for something better than what we have,” she said. “We need to take time to appreciate what we do have.”