Long a celebrated playwright, Martin McDonagh widened his fan base with his Golden Globe-winning film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" starring Frances McDormand as a flawed protagonist. His latest play, "Hangmen," also features a flawed protagonist and the similarities don't end there. McDonagh's trademark black humor and violent depictions are front and center once again, making for yet another knockout production.
The play is set in the 1960s northern England, and Harry Wade is the second-best hangman in Britain. But when capital punishment is abolished, Harry loses his day job and retires to the pub that he owns with his wife and teenage daughter. Regarded as a celebrity among the locals, Harry, surly and pompous, drinks it all in.
Nothing seems to rattle this former executioner with 233 kills to his name — that is, until Peter Mooney enters the picture. A roguish towhead with a sinister demeanor, he creeps everyone out except Harry's wife and daughter. I'll say no more as McDonagh, a master storyteller, has laid out an edge-of-your-seat yarn that will draw both gasps and guffaws in equal measure.
McDonagh keeps us guessing with his misfit characters, seemingly crafted as stereotypes until we discover they're not. And under Matthew Dunster's shrewd direction, you never see the plot twists coming.
The cast, half Brit and American, is to die for. Fans of "Game of Thrones" may recognize Mark Addy as the blustering King Robert Baratheon. He's terrific, displaying just enough humanity to soften Harry's chronic arrogance. And Johnny Flynn's Mooney is quite a piece of work, menacing, funny, bigoted, and bright all at the same time — you really can't take your eyes off him.
There's a lot packed into "Hangmen" which made me think of "Cheers," "The Iceman Cometh," and "The Silence of the Lambs" mixed up in a crazy stew. But hang all that; McDonagh and his wonderful cast of oddball characters are in a special class all to themselves.