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Theater review: 'One Arm' -- 3 stars

"One Arm" Photo Credit: handout

One Arm

3 stars

Ollie, the handsome central character of "One Arm," is a former boxing champ who lost his arm in a gruesome auto accident. But actor Claybourne Elder makes no attempt to hide Ollie's missing arm, which remains in plain sight. It's merely immobilized and attached to his torso.

"One Arm" is based on a 1948 short story by Tennessee Williams that he later turned into a screenplay that was never filmed. Moises Kaufman's production is done in an unashamedly presentational format: A narrator even sits downstage and reads off descriptions of camera shots that were intended for the film.

The narrative is broken into flashbacks that are presented out of chronology. It begins with Ollie rotting away in jail just before receiving a death sentence for murder, and immediately jumps to him on the street as a hustler - the only work he can find after his accident.

At first, Ollie appears to have become emotionally dead. But at the last minute, he finds redemption from the hundreds of letters sent to him from his former male customers.

Besides the fact that Kaufman ("Laramie Project," "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo") primarily is known for documentary theater, the only justification for the overtly theatrical style of "One Arm" would be the difficulty of realistically showing Ollie both before and after the loss of his arm.

But aside from the irritating use of narration, "One Arm" makes for an atmospheric and undeniably intense piece of theater based on a long-lost work by one of the 20th century's premier playwrights.


If you go: "One Arm" plays at Theater Row through July 2. 410 W. 42nd St., 212-239-6200, thenewgroup.org.

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