I’m a little surprised that, in this year of Tennessee Williams’s hundredth birthday, we aren’t seeing more productions of his plays in New York City – none of his really big Broadway hits are getting an airing. I’m glad, however, that the Williams productions we are getting this centenary year are of uniformly high quality, and Moisés Kaufman’s adaptation of Williams’s unproduced screenplay One Arm is easily the best yet.
Based on Williams’ 1948 short story of the same name, One Arm follows Ollie, a young boxing champ who loses his arm in a car crash, and drifts into a life of hustling, crisscrossing the gay underworld of late 1960s America. (This isn’t Ollie’s first appearance on the New York stage: director Andy Milligan’s adaptation of the short story was the very first production at legendary off-off-Broadway theatre La MaMa back in July 1962, having played earlier that month at the equally legendary Caffe Cino).
Boxers crop up very regularly in Williams’s drama, sometimes representing an oppressive force (not unlike Streetcar‘s Stanley Kowalski), but just as often representing defiance to oppressive forces (the most prominent example being Camino Real‘s lead character Kilroy). Ollie is perhaps the most complex boxer Williams ever created: he’s more oppressive to himself than anybody else, and he crisscrosses diverse landscapes of emotional and physical mutilation as he traverses the country, arriving, too late, at an appreciation of simple human connection.
As Ollie, Claybourne Elder delivers a nuanced, aching performance that is even more stunning than his handsome face and chiseled physique. He is supported by a uniformly strong cast, with standout performances by KC Comeaux as girlish “chicken” hustler Willy and Steve Hauck as pretentious (but ultimately kind) New York “client” Lester.
I admire Kaufman about as much as I admire any director currently working in the American theatre. Here he inventively use techniques from cinema and narrative fiction to frame a story whose innate theatricality he has loving teased out. Now that’s great directing!
For tickets, click here.