One Arm — Image via fringefestival.org

One Arm

Perestroika Theater Project
Directed by Joseph Stodola

Although the Minnesota Fringe Festival largely showcases new work, every once in a while, an older piece by a well-known author sneaks in. This year, the newly formed Perestroika Theater Project has dug into the dusty corners of the Tennessee Williams repertoire and come up with One Arm, which playwright Moisés Kaufman has adapted from a 1944 short story that Williams abortively attempted to turn into a screenplay later in his life. Though not in the same class as Williams’s acknowledged masterworks, One Arm proves to be a deeply felt, viciously moral piece, benefiting greatly from Perestroika’s committed and earnest production.

One Arm opens on death row, where prisoner Ollie Olsen (Bryan Daniel Porter) reads letters from correspondents who express sorrow and incredulity concerning his impending execution. The narrative then jumps back in time to relate how he ended up condemned to die. A wholesome farm boy turned Navy boxing champion, Ollie ends up jobless on the street after losing his arm in a car accident. One day, at a park in New Orleans, he learns that there are men who will pay him for sex, after which he makes his way from city to city as a rent boy. Though Ollie is outwardly successful in this venture, his disgust at the realization that his “mutilation” is much of what draws people to him eventually leads him into the encounter that determines his fate.

Many of One Arm‘s secondary characters are admittedly little more than archetypes, and Kaufman’s adaptation includes some distancing effects such as a narrator (Paul Rutledge) who reads aloud scene descriptions from Williams’s abandoned screenplay. Nevertheless, Perestroika finds many opportunities to invest the play with feeling and cultivate the audience’s empathy toward Ollie, and certain other characters — such as a young nurse (Aeysha Kinnunen) who briefly takes Ollie into her home and a wealthy john named Lester (David Coral) whose insecurities Ollie exploits — are drawn with enough detail to add color to the proceedings.

One Arm is not a happy play. Much like Ollie’s frequent reminder to his interlocutors, “I have one arm,” it insists that the audience engage with the reality of his situation rather than the pretty words and obfuscations that are often foisted upon him. The cast and crew of Perestroika’s production clearly believe in the play, and their dedication makes for a show that is definitely worth experiencing. One Arm receives one more performance at the Southern Theater on Sunday, Aug. 10.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.