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Bombs and Body Parts: Gruesome Gadgets for A Behanding In Spokane

A Behanding In SpokaneDoes Martin McDonagh sit up nights, thinking up extravagant scenic stunts to make the theater technicians who must stage them likewise lose sleep? Scalding fry-pan torture for The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Desiccated human bones smashed with sledge-hammers for A Skull In Connemara. A kitchen stove shotgunned to smithereens for The Lonesome West. Feline corpses and blood-spray shootings for The Lieutenant of Inishmore. And now, for the midwest premiere of A Behanding In Spokane, a suitcase stuffed with severed hands and a DIY time-bomb assembled from a candle affixed to a tin of gasoline.

Fortunately, special effects consultant Greg Poljacik is no stranger to grand guignol spectacle, having overseen surgery for such gory extravaganzas as Frankenstein in Love and Musical of the Living Dead. No easy Halloween-shop route for this deceptively mild-mannered violence designer!

"We started with a dozen hands left over from Florida's Gable Stage production last season for our models," he discloses, "Ballistics gel in plaster molds proved cost-prohibitive and the resulting hands too fragile—though you'll still see a few of our experiments in the show. We also bought some hands on-line, then cut them up to look like they had been chopped off. Others were constructed from nylon gloves filled with rawhide dog-chews and coated with Karo syrup, giving them a skeletal appearance, or from play-dough sculpted around dog-treats for a severely-decayed effect."

How long did it take to make all the hands we see onstage? "We held a 'hand party' one night, where the crew and interns applied makeup to the hands, then covered that with a layer of latex. This last step sealed the makeup, besides creating a shine on the surface and a peeling-skin texture. In the end, the combination of all these elements made for longevity, believability and affordability."

The hands are merely objects, but the incendiary device has moving parts. What led to the decision to use an open-spout tin, and not a jerry-can? "We wanted something uniquely old. The bomber has been searching for his missing hand for over two decades, and his tools have probably been traveling a long time," Poljacik explains, "We found ours on eBay and rigged the spout to keep the candle upright. That candle, by the way, is a non-drip kind, so there's no mess. Oh, and we fire-retard everything."

Wait a minute! Late in the play, when the killer splashes the liquid gasoline all over the stage in that tiny room, I'm sure that I smelled petrol—

Poljacik grins. "Don't worry—it's just water. We found a company named Silly Smells that actually sells something called 'High Octane Gasoline Fragrance Mist'—though why anybody would want their house or body to smell like a filling station is a puzzler. We soak a rag in it, and then hold the rag in front of a fan, so that the aroma blows into the whole room." He shrugs nonchalantly, "The audience's imagination does the rest."

(A Behanding In Spokane runs through December 4)

Mary Shen Barnidge
Contributing Writer

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