One Arm is written by Moises Kaufman and is based on a short story and screenplay by Tennessee Williams. It tells the story of Ollie Olsen, a young, attractive, and successful boxer in the Navy—the “Light Heavyweight Champion of the Pacific Fleet.” He has his whole life and a promising boxing career ahead of him, until a drunken car crash leaves him with only one arm. With the loss of his arm, Ollie also loses his confidence, his self-worth, and his livelihood. Unable to find work after the accident because, he is convinced, no one wants to hire a man with just one arm, he eventually becomes desperate and hungry enough to try turning tricks just to get by. Ollie does very well as a male prostitute by catering to those (primarily men) who are turned on by mutilation. He discovers that there “are no limits to human perversions,” as his clients request him to fulfill various fetishes, from letting them watch him undress to golden showers.
He continues living the life of a hustler until one day when he is asked to appear in a porn movie to make some extra bucks. Feeling mistreated and abused like some sort of a sideshow freak, Ollie snaps and ends up killing the film’s director. He lands in prison on death row, where he spends his last days reading heartfelt and supportive letters from all his past johns, who remember him fondly. He also tries to recall how to feel emotions again. In his mind, his severed arm—now numb and unfeeling—has become symbolic of his severed emotional connections with other people.
Fortunately, this lack of emotion doesn’t carry over to the audience. This play makes you feel all kinds of things, from sympathy to anger to sadness. You might even be shocked, if you’re the squeamish type. But you will feel, and laugh, and think, and you will be highly entertained. One Arm has clever dialogue, one-liners, thought-provoking themes, and some worthwhile sayings to take home with you, such as, “Guys who jump out of windows mess up streets!” Director Augustin J. Correro says, “Ollie Olsen comes to life in this screenplay-turned-stage play which stretches theatrical modes and plumbs the depths of desire in a harrowingly sexy way. Kaufman beautifully translates Williams’s signature blend of eroticism, longing, and danger.”
Adler Hyatt does an excellent job of portraying Ollie, and the rest of the cast keeps right up with him by giving equally amazing performances, sometimes in multiple roles. Bob Edes brings comic relief as both the lovable, toupee-wearing john named Lester, and Mrs. Wire, the cranky landlord of Ollie’s boarding house. Rachel Whitman-Groves plays almost every other woman in the play, from porn star to stripper to the geeky nurse who invites Ollie back to her place to admire her bedroom skylight. Jackson Townsend as Cherry, Ollie’s campy madam, also deserves a mention.
The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company always aptly handles the material of Tennessee Williams. In addition to the top-notch acting, the sets are minimalistic, and the props are creative and resourcefully employed—like the bar scene, where the actors are belly up to a board they hold up themselves while simultaneously balancing their glasses and drunken heads atop it. Or the “live pictures,” where a couple cast members peer through picture frames as if they are living artwork on the walls. It’s all convincing and it all just works.
One Arm has humor, sex, violence, and depravity. It’s sentimental and it’s odd, and it’s very Tennessee Williams. It’s also wonderful and engaging and extremely well-done. Why should you see this show? The list of reasons is, well, as long as your arm.
But hurry, because the show will end its run this coming weekend. Only three more performances and then it’s gone. As Ollie says at one point in the show, “Impermanence is the order of civilization as I’ve observed it.”
One Arm plays at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Art Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., Thursday, April 5, thru Saturday, April 7, at 8 p.m. For more information or to buy tickets, go to twtheatrenola.com.
Stage/electric chair photo by Kathy Bradshaw. All other photos by James Kelley.