The latest production from renowned theatre duo Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer is an adaptation of the 1942 short story and 1967 screenplay, One Arm, written by one of theatre’s legends, Tennessee Williams.
The story centres on a former boxing champion who, on losing one of his arms, takes to the road as a male prostitute. In his new life he encounters various characters and makes an impression on each of them.
The play is staged very creatively, with a plastic screen as a backdrop used to create beautifully haunting, ethereal silhouettes as the story unfolds, narrated in turn by a minister with questionable motives (Nicholas Dallas) and by the boxer himself, Oliver Winemiller (Marcel Meyer) who recounts his story in a sometimes regretful, sometimes scornful, sometimes narcissistic litany. Four chairs make up the entire set and chalked calligraphy covers the stage.
Visually, the play touches on all the right elements, and fits in with the story to enhance a dark and unsettling atmosphere made all the more sinister by an inherent innocence in the otherwise wayward protagonist.
There are moments of pure magic between the two actors, Meyer lost in the truth of his own character and Dallas cycling through his eight characters admirably, but the play is let down by the accents – versions of the characteristic drawl of the American South – which have a tendency to falter. While the slips are not overt, they have an adverse effect on the pace of the dialogue.
The themes of the tale are nonetheless clear and well portrayed, raising issues of an inexplicable attraction to mutilation and the sense of the macabre, while also exploring the sometimes tender relationship between men struggling to find expression in a homophobic society.
Overriding constants of self-destructive impulse and “the charm of the defeated” make this a thought-provoking play, and wonderful little moments of genius direction here and there bring on unexpected shivers of appreciation.
The costumes are magnificent, and each of Dallas’ personae are decked in immaculate and period-appropriate clothes which bring life to the story.
Full of gloom and foreboding, the most lasting impression of this play is the sense of a tender and fragile spirit which never quite makes it to the surface.
One Arm runs at the Artscape Arena, Cape Town until 14 September 2014.