Gremlin Theatre avoids the holidays in 'A Behanding in Spokane'

David Tufford and Luverne Seifert.

David Tufford and Luverne Seifert.

While the folks at Gremlin Theatre don't set out to produce an anti-holiday show each year, it usually turns out that way. "We have gotten into the unofficial habit of doing 'not-holiday' shows," says artistic director Peter Christian Hansen, noting that past offerings have included Fool for Love and last year's After Miss Julie.

"We've fallen into this routine of giving people a completely different offering," Hansen says.

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That's definitely true with the latest show from the company, Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane. The playwright has made a name for himself over the last two decades writing darkly humorous -- or just plain dark -- plays like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman, and films such as Seven Psychopaths.

The play was chosen after a reading led by director Matt Sciple. "We thought it was absolutely hilarious and exciting," Hansen says. "It's also a new play that is only a couple of years old. I love seeing newer works being developed."

The four-character play takes place in a hotel room in the titular city, and is centered on a man who believes his quarter-century search for his missing hand is at an end. The play marks the first time McDonagh has set one of his plays in the United States, and allows the writer to focus his attention on America.

"He looks at the absurdity of violence and revenge stories; of race and how America deals with race or doesn't.

"The cast features David Tufford, Sara Marsh, Brian J. Evans, and Luverne Seifert.

Hansen also looks to shows that fit in well with Gremlin's small University Avenue space. "I feel very tied to the idea of the intimate space," he says.There is also the desire to collaborate with people from throughout the local theater community.

The company's next work will be a co-production with Alan Berks: a revised version of Six Characters in Search of an Author set on a reality-TV program.

"We don't plan out too far because we try to partner with people on a production. Someone will say, 'I really want to do this script. I want to direct for you. Here's a role this actor would be great for.' Whatever we do emerges as an outgrowth that is really dear to somebody," Hansen says.

All of that should provide a unique ride for people who need to get away from fake holiday cheer to take in something a bit grittier." The dark humor is definitely part of it. The play goes in surprising ways. It's disturbing and funny. You shake your head and think, 'I can't believe I am laughing at this," Hansen says.

"I look for any excuse to show people what's cool about live performances," He says. "The funny is funnier. The sad is sadder. The horrifying is more horrifying. It's a real roller-coaster ride."


A Behanding in Spokane
Friday through December 16
Gremlin Theatre
2400 University Ave., St. Paul
For tickets, call 1-888-71-TICKETS or visit online