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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Theater Row


  KC Comeaux and Claybourne Elder/ Ph: Monique Carboni

Tennessee Williams wrote plenty of plays in the later stages of his career that are rarely performed. But even theater junkies can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with One Arm, which is now being presented off-Broadway in a co-production between the Tectonic Theater Project and the New Group. 

One Arm is based on a 1948 short story by Williams that he later turned into a screenplay that was never filmed. Moises Kaufman's production is presented in an unashamedly presentational format. A narrator even sits downstage and reads off descriptions of camera shots that were intended for the film.

Ollie, the handsome central character, is a former boxing champ who lost his arm in a gruesome auto accident. But actor Cladbourne Elder makes no attempt to hide Ollie’s missing arm, which remains in plain sight. It’s merely immobilized and attached to his torso.

The narrative is broken into flashbacks that are presented out of chronology. It begins with Ollie rotting away in jail just before receiving the death sentence for murder, and immediately jumps to him on the street as a hustler, the only work he could find after his accident.

At first, Ollie appears to have become emotionally dead. But at the last minute he finds redemption from the hundreds of letters sent to him from his former male customers.

Besides the fact that Kaufman (Laramie Project, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) is known primarily for documentary theater, the only justification for the overtly theatrical style of One Arm would be the difficulty of realistically showing Ollie both before and after the loss of his arm.

But besides the irritating use of narration, this makes for an atmospheric and undeniably intense piece of theater based on long-lost writing from one of the 20th century’s premier playwrights.


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