One Arm

  • Our critic's rating:
    June 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    In this unproduced movie script (based on Williams’ 1948 short story) we see the story of Ollie Olsen (Claybourne Elder) who was once a contender. He was the Lightweight Champion of the Pacific Fleet in the 1960’s. Before he could achieve greatness he was in an automobile accident that killed two of his shipmates and robbed him of his right arm. (This problem is solved brilliantly by strapping the arm in place and leaving it alone.) This loss sent Ollie directly to jail. Of a sort.

    Ollie did not pass GO and did not collect $200. He went from the top of the pile directly to the bottom where he discovered that he could turn a trick and cash in on his disability. In the Vieux Carre some men like an unusual trick. This did nothing to improve his life, and eventually Ollie snapped. This put him in real jail, and he ends up with a rope around his neck.

    Moisés Kaufman has chosen to include what appears to be the actual text from the movie script that Williams wrote. This technique works splendidly at times (as it did with the Elevator Repair Service’s production of The Sound and The Fury) but here it only slows down what is already a slow production. So slowly does the play proceed that we lose the poetry that all of Williams writing possesses.

    This is a company of fine actors who are able to give us a little of the life that smacks Ollie in the face over and over again. In New York he finds more clients, odd lonely people who give their hearts to him and a few who just want to use him. In jail he begins to receive mail from them and as his death approaches he not only counts his mail, he begins to answer them. They are emotional bills he says and he must try and pay the debt. But while we are told all of this, the overall tone of the production prevents us from feeling any of it.

    All the characters have one note each that ranges from morose to sad to resigned (with the exception of the brief spark that is KC Comeaux as a cross dressing hooker, Willie). They play out their sad tunes on a stunning and underutilized set by Derek McLane. No matter what we do we cannot get a hold on any of them because they fly under the radar of credibility on a carpet of despair. There is no hope, no joy in Mudville. There is nothing against which the darkness can be positioned. There is no struggle. There is only a narrator detailing Ollie’s slide into the goo.

    This is a production that lets the air out of Ollie’s story and eventually out of the theatre. We may be discovering why the movie was never produced, but it is a heck of a price to pay, both for the actors and the audience.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Those with a resistance to sentimental clichés about streetwalkers — are ... likely to roll their eyes."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Kaufman endows the story of a mutilated hustler’s final days on death row with the playwright’s palpably mournful mix of yearning and need, transforming a third-person narrative into a dimly lit naturalistic tone poem."
    Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg

    "Featuring a protagonist who has lost the ability to feel emotion, "One Arm" is an uncharacteristically cool work from the pen of Tennessee Williams. And yet it's precisely that emotional void that allows this terse drama to worm its way under your skin."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    " It's only at the very end of the play, when Ollie painfully takes up a pencil to answer one of his sorrowing lovers -- in a poignant letter of exquisite beauty -- that Williams finally makes his lyrical voice heard. The moment is shattering, but it comes much too late in the game to save Ollie from his fate, or the audience from its state of numbness."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - Bloomberg - Back Stage - Variety