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Review: ‘Hangmen’ at the Atlantic Is Dark, Dangerous, and Damn Good

Hangmen

By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, February 6, 2018

If you’ve ever wondered what a silver-tongued devil looks like, head over to the Linda Gross Theater and check out the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of the latest from playwright Martin McDonagh. In this case, charisma and criminality blend so well in the character of handsome Peter Mooney that you might want to look away, but you won’t be able to.

Mooney is played by Johnny Flynn, who is so damn good that you want him on stage every second. Lucky for you, he’s on stage a lot. And doubly lucky for you, the rest of the cast is jim dandy, starting with Mark Addy (King Robert Baratheon back from the hunt!) as England’s number two hangmen. The rankings are based on body count, although Harry has a bone to pick with some of the methods of measurement. Hangman Harry, who runs his pub in the north of England as if it were King’s Landing itself, is a wonderful blustering blowhard of a man, with an inflated ego and belly to match.

(l. to r.) Billy Carter, Richard Hollis, John Horton, Johnny Flynn (seated), and Owen Campbell in 'Hangmen;' photo: Ahron R. Foster.

(l. to r.) Billy Carter, Richard Hollis, John Horton, Johnny Flynn (seated), and Owen Campbell in ‘Hangmen;’ photo: Ahron R. Foster.

His fiefdom extends to a terrific trio of local barflies, one dim-witted and sycophantic, one elderly and seemingly senile (except he somehow says the smartest things of all of them) and one just, well, keeping a barstool and Harry’s ego warm. There’s a useless policeman, Harry’s bored wife, and his plump and, as Harry and his missus keep repeating, “mopey” teenage daughter. They are all there to serve Harry’s massive vanity, or, if not, to shut up and not get in his way.

A reporter has arrived to get Harry’s take on this very special day—the last day before capital punishment (as in hanging) will be outlawed in England. Harry should be judicious. Should speak cautiously. Should be modest. Harry is not capable of being any of those things.

Into this rummy joint slithers Mooney, hips as loose as Harry’s lips. He’s a blast of cool swinging London in this overheated 1965 backwater. But is that all he is? And why is he really there? Is he telling the truth? Or making it all up? I won’t give anything away because the fun of following the proceedings as they twist and turn at Mooney’s beguiling beck and call is way too much fun.

It’s dark (it’s Martin McDonagh!), it’s funny, there are gasps and twists galore. In this playwright’s world, none of us gets off free of charge. And, frankly, none of us deserve it. The performances are uniformly smashing, particularly the blustering Addy as Harry the Hangman, Reece Shearsmith as Syd, his hand-wringing, stuttering assistant, and, of course, the magnetically menacing Johnny Flynn as Mooney, the man who may be kin to the devil himself. Or maybe not.

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Hangmen presented by the Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street through March 7, 2018. Run time 2 hours and 15 minutes with 1 intermission. Written by Martin McDonagh. Directed by Matthew Dunster. Cast: Mark Addy, Owen Campbell, Billy Carter, Maxwell Caulfield, Johnny Flynn, Gaby French, Gilles Geary, Richard Hollis, John Horton, David Lansbury, Sally Rogers and Reece Shearsmith.

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Cover: (l. to r.) Mark Addy and Johnny Flynn in ‘Hangmen;’ photo: Ahron R. Foster.


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