BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Tennessee Williams wrote – and rewrote – plays and short stories practically every day of his adult life and so undiscovered or long-neglected works occasionally surface even now, 28 years after his death.
Originally a short story written in the early 1940s and then subsequently developed in the late 1960s by Williams as a screenplay that went unproduced, “One Arm” arrived on Thursday on Theatre Row under the auspices of The New Group and Tectonic Theater Project.
Adapted as a stage work and directed by Moises Kaufman (“The Laramie Project”), “One Arm” is a sad story about a young boxer who survives as a hustler after a shattering accident.
Now awaiting execution for murder, Ollie receives letters from his former tricks, which causes him to reflect upon his life: His fleeting triumph as the light heavyweight boxing champ of the Pacific fleet; the drunken car crash that cost him his arm; the different men who paid for his physical favors; the sordid incident making a porno flick that ended in murder.
Beautifully mutilated characters like Ollie – described as resembling a “piece of antique sculpture” and as a “broken Apollo” – occasionally appear in Williams’ works. Aficionados will detect a number of other characteristic Williams motifs in this 80-minute drama about “fugitive kind” of people set mostly in New Orleans and New York.
While the story’s circumstances and certain characters are unsavory, they are quietly depicted with discretion and sensitivity, sans nudity or graphic action. The dialogue is lean and fleetingly lyrical. If the poignant “One Arm” is relatively minor Williams, it nonetheless will intrigue viewers as a representative work.
Kaufman’s adaptation employs a narrator – a broke, struggling young writer who befriends Ollie – and his direction fluently guides the play’s transitions between scenes. Seven good actors portray several characters each in support of the strapping, boyish-looking Ollie appealingly played by Claybourne Elder, whose right arm is bound against his torso to indicate the missing limb.
Designer Derek McLane’s dark, spare setting and David Lander’s crepuscular lighting go with the flow of the story, which is subtly enhanced by Shane Rettig’s sound design.