Linda Gross Theater, New York City, (866) 811-4111
The creator of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is back to his old tricks, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Martin McDonagh, the director and screenwriter behind that Oscar favorite, clearly hasn’t forgotten how to write a “criminally enjoyable” black comedy for the stage. “Planting false information, taking advantage of our willingness to believe the worst, diverting our focus with left-field wordplay”—these are the playwright’s specialties. With Hangmen—a tale set mostly in a 1960s English pub and focused on an executioner who loved his line of work—McDonagh’s “double-edged, sinister magic” makes delighted dupes of us all.
You can almost see the playwright “gleefully setting up bowling pins,” said Sara Holdren in NYMag.com. In Scene 1, it’s 1963, and Harry Wade (Game of Thrones’ Mark Addy) is preparing to hang a man and ignoring the convict’s wild insistence that’s he’s innocent. Fast-forward two years, and Harry is a publican smugly sharing with a reporter his thoughts about a new ban on the death penalty. A modishly dressed man enters the pub, asking about renting an upstairs room. He’s “all vulpine half-grins,” and we sense that this stranger (a “crackerjack” Johnny Flynn) might have dark vengeance in mind when he starts talking up Harry’s 15-year-old daughter. In that role, newcomer Gaby French “all but walks away with Hangmen,” and we can’t help but fear for her.
The play won’t tell you anything new about capital punishment, said Helen Shaw in VillageVoice.com. It’s meant to be a showdown between two types of male monsters, and it suffers slightly because Addy plays Harry as “a mere dyspeptic” instead of the state-sanctioned brute he should be. But the suspense is there, and at least one good monster. Besides, “we don’t go to a McDonagh play to feel deeply about the world.” We go to glimpse humanity at its absurd worst—“for a little brush of poison on our lips, because it makes other things taste so sweet by comparison.” ■