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Billy Carter

Hangmen – A Black Comedy Driven By Misdirection


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.

Shining City – Unmoored in A Crowded City


In essence, Shining City (last seen here on Broadway in 2006), is another of playwright Conor McPherson’s ghost stories. This one, however, alludes not only an “actual” spirit, but city lives lived, despite liaisons, without roots or attachments, adrift in limbo.

Still living with unopened cartons, fledgling therapist Ian (Billy Carter) welcomes his first patient with professionalism that covers insecurity.  John (Matthew Broderick) evidently tried to get an appointment with a psychiatrist recommended by his doctor, but waiting time was four months. We never learn how he found Ian. John’s problem, emerging in the fits and starts of an otherwise, one suspects, taciturn man, is that his wife Mari is appearing in the house weeks after she died in a particularly grisly car crash. The patient is so badly shaken, he’s moved into a B & B.

Lisa Dwan, Billy Carter

John and Mari barely communicated when she was alive. He had no idea she was out the night she died or where she was going. If they’d only communicated. If they’d only been able to have children. Is she now trying to punish her husband or to tell him something?

Ian is –surprise!- visited by Neasa (Lisa Dwan) the mother of his baby. Despite an argument, oblivious to exit statements, she expected him home days ago. Stuck in his brother’s house, life’s become ostracized hell. We learn some of Ian’s backstory, viable reasons for his feeling troubled. He will, he promises, be responsible.

Next we look in on the therapist one night when he’s picked up Laurence (James Russell) in a park. Homeless, in debt, and also a father, the man is reduced to selling himself in order to be able to go back to temporary digs. This is Ian’s awkward first time with a man. It doesn’t turn out as planned.


Billy Carter and James Russell; Billy Carter

Furniture is moved, cartons packed. Ian is once again moving. John returns for a last visit. Both his and Ian’s lives have radically changed. Or have they?

McPherson’s episodic piece is fatalistic. These are four characters without real homes, in search of connection, who “affiliate” but seem not to bond. Loneliness in a crowd. Less poignant than numb. Uncomfortably familiar. Even the building’s door buzzer never gets fixed.

Director Ciaran O’Reilly makes us feel like voyeurs. Even the playwright’s signature, fragmented dialogue arrives authentic. Each actor wears anxiety and disassociation a bit differently; the sum may make you squirm. Raised voices are never gratuitous. In fact, tensions often show themselves in small ways like John’s hand upon the couch arm, a single finger twitching or Laurence’s sudden, yet ambivalent move towards John. Ian’s unwitting smiles at some of what John tells him are priceless.

Billy Carter (Ian) is an onstage natural. The actor uses his character’s feelings to color every word and move or lack thereof rather than demonstrate them. He is here, palpably, a man shut off from himself as well as the world.

Matthew Broderick (John) begins a victim of our familiarity. It takes awhile to accept his pronounced Irish accent. Drawn sympathetically to the turbulence that drives him, however, we become as accustomed to it as we do to his self-flagellating guilt. Broderick is a master of hesitant, confused delivery. His everyman persona serves the role. John could be your friend, your neighbor.

An unnerving play.

Charlie Corcoran’s Set is appropriately utilitarian and minimal with details reflecting an old building.

The newly renovated Irish Repertory Theater is more comfortable, more accessible, and more spacious. A venerable and worthy institution begins another act like a phoenix rising from plaster and sawdust.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Matthew Broderick, Billy Carter

Shining City by Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Through July 3, 2016