Harry (the excellent Mark Addy) is a no-nonsense, 25-year veteran hangman unacquainted with compassion. Being perpetually corrected as to the grammatical use of “hanged” and “hung” by timid assistant Syd (Reece Shearsmith) does nothing to further his patience. Whether or not the prisoner (Gilles Geary, a believably desperate Hennessy) is guilty is not Harry’s concern. (There are hints of injustice.) Yes, you see a hanging, but unlike many of McDonagh’s plays, death is bloodless and quick. What’s for dinner?
Billy Carter, Richard Hollis, John Horton, Johnny Flynn (seated), and Owen Campbell
Having gained community reputation as a man of importance, Harry retires, and with wife Alice (a solid Sally Rogers) and sullen, shy, patently naïve daughter Shirley (Gaby French – brava second act speech) runs the kind of British pub where locals get their social life. For Charlie (Bill Carter), Bill (Richard Hollis), Arthur (the always credible John Horton), and police commissioner Fry (David Lansbury), the place is a second home. Conversation is basic, low key, often wry (to us).
Two years later, England abolishes hanging. Clegg (Owen Campbell) a young reporter on the village newspaper, interviews the indiscreet Harry on what circumstantially turns out to be the anniversary of Hennessy’s death. That same day, a cocky, visiting Londoner named Mooney (Johnny Flynn) sets in motion inexorable events that will wreck status quo. The stranger couldn’t be more menacing if he carried an exposed weapon dripping blood. Slick amiability does nothing to mask innuendo. As a boy, Mooney undoubtedly enjoyed ripping the wings off flies…in front of friends.
Johnny Flynn and Gaby French
Skillful misdirection plays on cowardice, self-absorption, malevolence, vengeance, and innocence…which is to say, you won’t see the playwright’s practiced hand as it repeatedly disappears metaphoric coins or manifests rabbits. Your head may in fact swivel with surprise.
One of the most entertaining and well crafted of McDonagh’s plays, Hangmen is an ensemble piece. Director Matthew Dunster sees to it that every actor has distinctive personality affecting attitude and bearing. (Only the Inspector feels underdeveloped.) Aesthetic use of space, small business, and character focus keeps the full stage natural. Timing couldn’t be better for inducing tension and surprise. Black comedy is insidious.
Reece Shearsmith and Mark Addy
Reece Shearsmith (Syd) vibrates with infuriated frustration and fear. From his short appearance at the start of the piece to increasing participation, we experience what he feels.
Johnny Flynn (Mooney) makes one’s skin crawl. This outstanding performance is seamlessly, viscerally nasty. Each expression and pause, every ordinary gesture holds as much potential danger as thrillingly horrible outbursts.
Mark Addy and Sally Rogers
Sets are flat out terrific. Designer Anna Fleische creates a bleak, brilliantly scaled prison and well detailed pub that seem so substantial, transition (and its engineering) is a marvel. Having to unlock a double set of pub doors is splendidly utilized to dramatic effect as is the tightly spiraled back stairway. Thick, frosted glass and Queen Anne windows offer a feeling of tradition and longevity. Fleishe is also credited with Costumes which are pitch perfect. Watch for Alice’s change of clothing in anticipation of interviewing Mooney.
Joshua Carr’s Lighting Design is symbiotic. When the stage goes black at the end of each scene, we hear what seems like a metal prison door – redolent and unnerving. Sound Designer Ian Dickinson for Autograph also collaborates with Carr to conjure realistic storms.
Featuring Maxwell Caulfield as Albert, a rival pub owner and former hangman.
Photos by Ahron R. Foster
Opening: Mark Addy and Johnny Flynn
Atlantic Theater Company presents
The Royal Court Theatre production of
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Matthew Dunster
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th Street
Through March 25, 2018
Listen to Alix Cohen talk about reviewing theater on WAT-CAST.
“Once not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.”
What appears at first glance to be a slight ripple in history sometimes affects those present in profoundly unexpected ways. This gem of a musical, whose fine book buoys grounded lyrics, embraces what we have in common rather than becoming yet another platform for political social/division. That it does so with limpid delicacy eschewing Hollywood outcomes makes the piece as refreshing as it is sympathetic.
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has been invited to open an Arab Cultural Center in Pet Hatikva, Israel. Overseen with utmost decorum “We are here to represent our country!” by their conductor, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Tony Shaloub), the small troop appear somewhat dazed. Crisp, powder blue military uniforms stand out against sand and cracked cement as if landed from another planet. In fact, they are strangers in a strange land.
Tony Shaloub, Alok Tewari, Ari’el Stachel
When trumpet player/ladies man Haled (Ari’el Stachel) mistakenly arranges passage to neighboring Bat Hatikva (B not P), the men find themselves in a one horse desert town without the horse. Locals pass by means of a stage floor turntable. They’re all “Waiting”, but is it for something special or just “Looking off out into the distance/even though you know the view is never gonna change…”
Café owner Dina (Katrina Lenk), affable Itzik (John Cariani), and hapless young Papi (Daniel David Stewart) sing “Welcome to Nowhere.” As the next bus doesn’t come through till tomorrow and the settlement has no hotel, Dina agrees to put up Tewfiq and Haled. Itzik takes home clarinetist Simon (Alok Tewari) and violinist Camal (George Abud.) Others will bunk in the café.
John Cariani, Katrina Lenk, Daniel David Stewart
David Yazbeck’s infectious music embraces Middle Eastern influences with estimable skill, maintaining an atmosphere of “other” one rarely finds in musical theater. Orchestra members without speaking parts supplement hidden musicians creating inclusiveness. Stachel actually plays trumpet, Tewari, clarinet, Abud, violin. Several cast members speak fluent Arabic while others deliver dialogue in Hebrew. There isn’t a single weak link in acting or vocals. Casting (Tara Rubin) must’ve been like scaling a glass mountain.
The play evolves over a single afternoon and evening with four integrated chapters. In Avrum’s home (Andrew Polk as Iris’s father), we observe Itzak’s unemployment and a new baby strain his marriage to Iris (Kristin Sieh). Polk tells Avrum’s love story with palpable warmth. A pleasing “Beat of Your Heart” elicits memories: Love starts when the tune is sweet/And you lift your feet/to the beat of your heart…Simon unwittingly affects dynamics.
Kristen Sieh, John Cariani, Alok Tewari, Andrew Polk, George Abud
At a well staged roller rink, Papi panics around girls. Description of his state “Papi Hears the Ocean” is priceless. Haled instills the boy with confidence in a charming scene.
Curious about and drawn to her guest, the attractive Dina literally lets her hair down and engineers private time with Tewfiq. It seems she’s familiar with Egyptian film and the music of female vocalist Umm Kulthum. “Omar Sharif” is wistful and original: From the West from the South/Honey in my ears/Spice in my mouth…Dina gets the guarded conductor to begin to open up. He sings in a capella Arabic (with immense feeling), but is it about love, she wonders, or fishing? Still, this man is compelling. They understand one another on a deeper level. It’s “Something Different.”
Tony Shaloub, Katrina Lenk
The fourth chapter, an embodiment of hopeful perseverance, is played out with the Telephone Guy (Erik Liberman, good vocal) who has stood outside a phone booth every night for a month waiting for a promised call from his girl. Then it’s time for the orchestra to move on. We last see them – performing – in Pet Hatikva. It’s extremely difficult not to get up and dance. A completely satisfying experience.
Ari’el Stachel imbues Haled with gentleness that would appeal to the girls with whom his character continually flirts, yet masculinity is ever present. His paternal attitude toward Papi is lovely. And he sings. Daniel David Stewart is pitch perfect as awkward, earnest Papi.
Katrina Lenk and Tony Shaloub are a match made in heaven. Lenk’s earthy, sensual, smart portrayal make Dina a real and formidable woman. Rarely have the practical and passionate been so believable in tandem. And she has a superb voice.
Shaloub’s performance is layered and nuanced. Fastidiousness is unmistakable. Revealing his painful past, Tewfiq maintains perspective, yet at one point, we hear his breath catch. His song communicates lost illusions – I didn’t understand a word. The couple’s parting couldn’t be more convincingly manifest.
Director David Cromer has both a soulful character touch and the kind of comprehensive staging vision that never makes a false move. The turntable is wonderfully utilized. Live musicians are meticulously integrated.
Language and Dialect Coach Mouna R’miki deserves a standing ovation. Scott Pask’s flexible set evokes the desolate environment while maintaining a sense of community with flow.
Photos by Ahron R. Foster
Opening: Ari’el Stachel, David Garo Yellin, George Abud, Tony Shalloub, Harvey Valdes, Sam Sadigursky, Alok Tewari
Atlantic Theater Company presents
The Band’s Visit
Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek; Book by Itamar Moses
Based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin
Music Director: Andrea Grody; Orchestrations: Jamishied Sharifi
Directed by David Cromer
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20 Street
Through January 1, 2017