After receiving my assignment to review this play I searched for “armless” in my RSS feed and came up with a review by Mr. Roach (along with an article about an armless pianist who won on the television show “China’s Got Talent”). It seems that a while back, Eric and Andy reviewed a reading of the play “Armless,” part of the Lights Out Theater Company’s Pre-Game Play series. Based on this review, I thought the play would be about Facebook. But that’s only because I stopped after reading the first two paragraphs of the review. And so, alas, I thought for sure this was going to be a play about Facebook. Curious to discover what connection armlessness might have to the social network, I ventured out to Mary Arrchie and found a seat in the back of the small, 42-seat theater.
While I sat waiting for the show to begin, I speculated about the themes that playwright Kyle Jarrow might have intended to present. In the future, we’ll communicate via the internet telepathically. That is to say, in two hundred years I will still be writing play reviews for Eric and Andy, but I’ll simply transmit my reviews via thoughtstreams to Eric and Andy, who will screen those reviews for content, still uncertain two centuries from now whether I have any business pretending to be a writer. Eric will twitch his nose, and Andy will blink, and voila! the review in question will be transmitted directly to the brains of all those who are interested in what the Reviews You Can Iews writers have to say (that means YOU, devoted readership). Afterwards, I’ll give everyone in my social network a piece of my mind, literally, letting each person know my opinion of this or that play, so that he or she can push it into his or her subconscious, where it will stew with a trillion other useless transmissions. In the future, thanks to advances in telepathy, we’ll have no need for keyboards. In the future, we’ll have no need for arms.
That’s what I thought “Armless” would be about. I was wrong.
In fact, the play is about a young man named John (Gavin Robinson) suffering from a disorder called Body Integrity Identity Disorder. John leaves his wife Anna (Mary Williamson) and goes to the big city to find a certain Dr. Phillips, whom he hopes will amputate his arms, based on stories he’s read in Internet chat rooms devoted to like-minded amputee “wannabes.” After John requests the ethically and legally suspect procedure, he discovers that he’s found the wrong Dr. Phillips. (“It’s a common name!” explains Ian Knox, who plays Phillips) Oops. The rest of the play finds Anna, Dr. Phillips, and his receptionist Jenny (Annie Calhoun) grappling to understand John’s motivation and save him before he does something rash.
Under Bobby Libby’s direction, the cast navigates Jarrow’s dark and absurd script, which weaves between macabre comedy and serious meditations on love, suffering, and mental illness. Despite a smattering of somewhat predictable jokes about arms and limbs, the play never relies on cheap laughs, and some of the funniest moments of the play occur in the dead air between lines - a credit to the cast members, who seemed to have a strong grasp on the bizarre two-headed beast they were riding.
Jarrow turned the play into a feature-length film that screened at Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals. This production runs about 70 minutes in length, long enough to mine the strange territory it explores but short enough that you don’t tire of its central conceit: that a man who has a pathological urge to cut off his arms just needs love, and not intensive psychotherapy.
I give this play two very enthusiastic arms in the air!