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Hangmen - A Martin McDonagh melodrama: ominous thunder and lightning and incomprehensible accents





Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk Entertainment.com

You might want to see this Royal Court Theatre production of HANGMEN more than once at the Atlantic Theater Company on West 20th Street. And not because it is written by Martin McDonagh. And not because of all the excellent hype surrounding it.

You might want to revisit HANGMEN to try to understand more clearly what exactly is going on with the various characters involved. Mr. McDonagh isn’t known for his clarity. He is best remembered for his dark sense of humor, violence and sometimes implausible plot twists.

First and foremost you may comprehend better the many words of the actors with their extremely heavy accents the second time around. Volume is not the problem. The accents are. Particularly those of Alice (Sally Rogers) and daughter Shirley (Gaby French). One or two phrases understood here and there make it almost impossible to follow the bumpy McDonagh road of which “hangman” is better: Harry (Mark Addy) reputed to be the second best or his archrival Albert Pierrepoint “numero uno” (Maxwell Caulfield) with all its underlying complications.

But I am getting ahead of myself and I’ll attempt to keep this brief.

England. 1963. Hanging is the order of the day. Hennessy (Gilles Geary) is about to hanged not hung for a crime he most probably did not commit by Harry (Pierrepoint was off or indisposed that day) and his prissy assistant Syd (Reece Shearsmith). He isn’t going to die without a fight. Told to relax and get it over with – “you could have been dead by now,” we are off and running. Violence and gallows humor.

Fast forward two years. The grimy, drab and water stained cellblock is (through the magic of stagecraft and set designer Anna Fleischle) replaced by a pub now owned and operated by said Harry and his raunchy wife Alice with fifteen year old daughter (whose self-esteem is lower than the incoming tide) in tow. The set which offers yet another surprise location is the hero of this production.

Bar flies are in attendance. As in CHEERS! My favorite is Arthur (John Horton). As do they all, he drinks his pints but has trouble hearing. Even he has trouble understanding the accents. Words and phrases and jokes must be repeated to great effect.

HANGMEN as touted is not hysterically funny. Arthur is. I kept wondering what it is exactly they are all drinking as I tried valiantly to follow the goings-on. Not a good sign.

Into this mix marches Michael Caine – a complete stranger. Rather Johnny Flynn as Mooney. Immediately bringing to mind a young Mr. Caine in his prime. Mooney is menacing and moody. And according to his own evaluation “not creepy.” He is looking to rent a room. And shake things up. Alice (the wife) is looking to have a little fun. When next we see her she is all dolled up and ready to rock with this young newcomer. But he sets as his target shy Shirley and he persuades her to meet him for a date.

Shirley disappears. But not before a reporter interviews Harry - as capital punishment has been abandoned and he is now out of a job. The published newspaper interview puts him back in the spotlight.

Somehow (my favorite word when there is no obvious explanation) Mooney and prissy Syd hook up. That’s all I’m allowed to divulge. Even if I could I wouldn’t be able to as the rest becomes rather murky. There is however another hard to digest hanging.

This unsatisfying melodrama replete with ominous thunder and lightning is directed by Matthew Dunster. There is a running “cock” joke, a few red herrings and many unanswered questions.

The limited Off Broadway running through March 7th is SOLD OUT. However, it will be opening on Broadway in the near future. Hopefully these notes will aid in your understanding. Hang in there!

I was quite disappointed. At the Linda Gross Theater 336 West 20 Street. 2 hours 15 minutes – one intermission.

www.atlantictheater.org

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Photo: Ahron R. Foster


  
02-20-18