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"Hangman" By Martin McDonagh
"Hangman" by Martin McDonagh, directed by Matthew Dunster
Atlantic Theater, 330 W 20th St., NYC
January 18 - March 7, 2018
Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays - Saturdays at 8pm, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2pm
Tickets $39-$129, (866) 811-4111
(L-R) Mark Addy and Johnny Flynn in Martin McDonagh's "Hangman." Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
There are plays you want to remember: something about a scene or a character haunts you. And there are plays that keep returning at odd moments, when you're walking down the subway stairs or preparing dinner. Martin McDonagh's "Hangman" at the Atlantic Theatre hits an unexpected double run. This dark comedy is so intriguing that people exiting the theatre were wondering if "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri," his Oscar nominated film, is still running in theatres and what other McDonagh play they might have seen. It’s a treat for this critic to watch his talent mature. But if you don't know McDonagh plays, be prepared for violence. It's his signature.
The first scene introduces Harry Wade (Mark Addy), the second best hangman in England, in action, at an execution. (This comic rapidity would make Moliere smile.) The condemned man (Gilles Geary) clings to the bedpost, protests his innocence, but is summarily – indifferently -- hanged stage left. The next scene takes us to Harry's family pub -- after hanging has been abolished. The hangman hasn't changed. He pontificates to a comic chorus of alcoholics, who plainly worship him, an attitude he takes for granted. He dominates wife and daughter as well. His pub is his castle, and he never seems to doubt his significance, his judgment, or his professions. He is a marvelous creation and McDonagh keeps us continually engaged as subsequent scenes unveil more about him: his code of ethics, the inflated size of his ego, his competitive drive, and, curiously, his hesitation as a young man to become a hangman.
(L-R) Reece Shearsmith (sitting) and Johhny Flynn in Martin McDonaugh's "Hangman." Photo by Ahron R. Foster.
Into this predictable world enters a character we've met before in Pinter plays, the menacing stranger (Johnny Flynn). In one scene, he rises, leans over both chair back and table, to confront his suddenly reluctant co-conspirator. He is a pure, unpredictable threat, a deliberate antagonist. But he is also young and attractive and the hangman's 15 year old daughter (Gaby French) has been told by her gin-guzzling mother (Sally Rogers) that no boy will want her because she is moody. The daughter and the stranger agree to meet and then the girl goes missing – on the second anniversary of the death of the man we saw hanged. The year before, on that date, another girl was murdered.
Although so much more unfolds, this is probably all you need to know because the play expands from this base into larger questions about men who are paid to kill, about righteous murder, about guilt and innocence, questions that add depth without slowing the comedy. It is totally engaging theatre although none of the characters are likeable, another McDonagh signature. Director Matthew Dunster was very attentive to details and keeping up the pace. He and the playwright struck a perfect but shifting balance of fear, revelation and comedy, weaving them seamlessly until the outrageous close. Excellent ensemble and excellent use of the theatre space by designer Anna Fleischle, whose fluid staging and opaque windows (for shadows and menace) were part of the dramatic action. (Fleischle received the Olivier, Critics' Circle and Evening Standard awards for best design.)
" Hangman," which is enjoying a sold-out run at the Atlantic as it did in London's Royal Court Theatre, is scheduled to move to the Cort Theatre on Broadway in April. "Hangman" may be the best production I have seen at the Atlantic Theatre Company.
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