The man with the titular one arm is Ollie Olsen, a boxer who loses his arm in an accident that kills two of his friends. No longer able to box, he stumbles into hustling (a quaint and old-fashioned word for prostitution) as a way to survive. He finds that he's good at it, and travels around the country making an impression on many men, and a few women. But he's become dead inside, unable to feel anything for anyone, until he ends up in prison and is faced with the end of his life and the memories of past encounters. The story is told within the framework of a screenplay; a narrator begins the story carrying a script in his hands, and he and other characters read stage directions such as "exterior night," or "camera pans." It's almost as if you're watching a movie, or a movie acted out on stage, which adds another level of interest and originality to the storytelling.
|Torsten Johnson and James Kunz (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
Most of the story is told through a series of perfect two-person scenes with Ollie and the people he meets, all of whom are portrayed by the five other cast members. H. Adam Harris is the narrator, bringing to life Williams' (and/or Kaufman's) elegantly descriptive words, and also plays a man who is perhaps Ollie's only true friend. The other four actors sit in chairs behind the stage with their various props and wardrobe pieces around them, watching the scene until they're called to join in the action. The two returning cast members are the radiant Aeysha Kinnunen playing all of the Tennessee Williamsesque women, and Adam Qualls in several diverse performances including the callous prison guard and a nervous divinity student who wants to help but isn't quite sure why or how. Craig Johnson makes an impression (as always) as a wealthy and lonely john, a sleazy porn producer, and the crazy landlady. Rounding out the cast is James Kunz, who also choreographed the movement. There is no "choreography" as you typically think of it, but the way the actors move around the space is really quite beautiful and expressive.
|Craig Johnson and Torsten Johnson (photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp)
It's worth noting that when I attended the show last Saturday night, I was one of the oldest people in the audience. This is a rare occurrence; at 41 I'm often one of the youngest people in the audience (nothing makes me feel younger than a Sunday matinee at BCT!). Perhaps it was the 9 pm start time - we older people have a hard time leaving the house after 8, and if I wasn't already out at a birthday party I probably wouldn't have made it either. Whatever the reason, kudos to New Epic Theater for drawing in a younger audience. But they deserve to be drawing in a larger audience than the one I was part of. I know they're a new company in a community rife with theater companies young and old, but trust me when I say that this one is worth your time. The director, cast, and creative team have created a gorgeous piece of theater based on the work of two fine playwrights. I hope that they're not a one-hit wonder and will continue to produce thoughtful, relevant, inventive, gorgeous work like One Arm. Performances continue tonight through this weekend only, so you have six more chances to see it (a few 9 pm performances but also some 7:30 shows for those with an earlier bedtime).