By German Madrid
Translated by Lauren Roark
Developed by Joey Folsom, Jeff Swearingen and Andy Baldwin
Broken Gears Project Theatre
Director: Andy Baldwin
Stage Manager: Audri Arnold
Assistant Stage Manager: Cheyney Coles
Technical Director: Curt Stiles
Set Design: Curt Stiles & Andy Baldwin
Scenic Design: Elias Taylorson
Master Carpenters: Curt Stiles & Eric Briggs
Lighting Designer: Max Marquez
Sound Design: Cheyney Coles & Andy Baldwin
Properties: Elisa, Andy, Audri & Cheney
Costumes: Merona Target
Producer: Elias Taylorson
Jeff Swearingen: The Man/The Other Man
Joey Folsom: The Other Man/The Man
Morgan McClure: Narrator
Reviewed Performance 6/8/2011
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Is there a mini Renaissance of Spanish Language Absurdist Theatre happening?
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Teatro Dallas' groundbreaking production of The Maiden of the Used Books by Aristides Vargas. This week I had the additional pleasure of reviewing The Hand by German Madrid, also a groundbreaking production.
Whereas The Maiden of the Used Books assaults the audience with its insanity from the get go, The Hand slowly seduces the audience into its madness.
Two men have a chance meeting in a bathroom. The bathroom is in the private private residence that belongs to one of them. Naturally one would think that the uninvited house guest would startle the owner of the home. But no, he's very casual about it. With this unexpected twist at the get go the play proceeds to take you down a meandering path of lies, deceptions, absurdist twists, and violence, all enrobed in delicious black comedy. The overall experience is like biting into a magical and luscious chocolate with an unexpected but very satisfying filling.
Madrid's twisted fairytale accomplishes two things quite well: surprise the audience and simultaneously foreshadow the events to come. You quickly figure out the plot once the set-up is in place but what keeps you on the edge of the seats is that the characters don't react the way you think they should.
If have one complaint it is that The Hand is too short a piece. It runs 60 minutes and it neatly reaches to its violent and logical conclusion, if there is such a thing as logic in Absurdist Theatre. The focus of the piece is the ownership of a hand. One character has a transplanted hand, the other is missing his. There are hints that maybe these two people are both the same person and you are witnessing some bizarre mental insanity. You aren't sure who the real person is and who is the illusion or that indeed it is two different people with completely different agendas, one macabre and one salacious. There are other dualities that could have been explored but Madrid as a playwright keeps his attention on the absurdist plot. It works wonderfully but I wish other dualities could have been explored.
This said, as a reviewer I must judge the piece based on what is written and not what I would wish it to be. As written and presented it is a thrilling piece of theatre that captivates and fascinates.
I have always been a big fan of Jeff Swearingen. In my estimation he is one of the finest actors, not just in Dallas but anywhere else. He usually plays slightly off kilter characters but in this play he takes on the role of the more "normal" man. To see him play such a seemingly "ordinary" person was a thrill. I use these words in quotations because as the play progresses you discover he isn't quite as run of the mill a person you think him to be, but in comparison to the character Joey Folsom plays, he is the one most sane. As we get to know him layers upon layers are uncovered making his character completely believable and real. He also imbues his character with a subtle touch of homosexuality. Is he gay or just always has interests in men that are not acted upon? He imbues the character with an eroticism that sets the stage of what will become his downfall.
Joey Folsom is also one of the top notch actors in the area and holds his own against Swearingen. He is off kilter and charming, but lurking underneath the exterior is a palpable danger that, like Swearingen, he reveals layer by layer. He is aware of the "interests" and fascination of the man and he chooses to ignore them because he knows that by doing so will make the man that much more intrigued. Keep in mind that this sexual tension is all done via subtext but it serves as the kindle upon which the fuel and later the fire will form. Once the plot kicks into high gear the play is no longer sexual but violent to its core. Mr. Folsom is slender and lithe and would never seem like someone that could cause physical harm but that's exactly why his portrayal is so believable. He is most dangerous because he looks like he would never hurt a fly.
Andy Baldwin stages the piece with the wisdom of knowing he has two actors that will deliver seminal performances. He paces the show quite nicely with varied tempos. The stage is exceedingly small and he might have created more focused stage pictures in the first half of the play. This is really a minor quibble because he does utilize the small space to its maximum effect in moving his actors from area to area. He creates a true house of horrors effect when the violence kicks in and his stage pictures pop. I must tip my hat to him on his use of stage blood, it was masterful.
Morgan McClure does the voice over narration that pops in and out from time to time. She delivers that lovely, warm, yet somehow generic voice we are accustomed to hearing at airports and waiting areas. Her casual delivery is a perfect counterpoint to the ever evolving insanity and morbidity on stage.
I was extremely impressed with what at a glance seems like a simple stage design. It all happens in an upscale bathroom. It is a lovely bathroom. What impresses the most is that the shower works as does the sink. Yes they truly have running water, not the low pressure dribbles you frequently see with "stage" bathrooms. In black and white, Elias Taylorson's design is a perfect neutral background for the bloodletting.
I commend the stage managers in this production, Audri Arnold and Cheyney Coles. There is quite a mess to clean up after every performance and the stage is spotless, with no hint as to what will transpire. Their housekeeping abilities are top notch.
Such a small space makes it difficult to do much with lighting design but Max Marquez does an exceptional job with his limited resources. It is perfectly realized.
I also must applaud Lauren Roark's translation. Her translation is vibrant. It is frequently nearly impossible to translate a Spanish script and have it make sense in English because the double entendre of wordplay can get lost. There is some wordplay regarding the man having one of something on him and two of something else below it. Of course it turned out to be the robe he is wearing and his two slippers. We catch the reference in her translation but we didn't get the joy of hearing the actual puns since they don't correlate from one language to the other. The fact that she is able to still bring out the innuendo is a testament to her translation skills.
I love the fact that this play has Merona Target credited as the costume designer. The men wear Merona underwear from Target. Oh, there is a robe in use at one point and some slippers but most of the time they are simply in their underwear. This absurd inside joke captures the absurd humor of the piece.
The Hand is a violent, giddy, absurd, scary, macabre, funny and homoerotic play with brief backside nudity, smoking on stage, and copious amounts of blood. It is also clever, superbly acted, well directed, well produced, absorbing, enthralling, and deserves to have a packed house every night.
One last thing to know ? in the performance I attended Jeff Swearingen played the man who owns the bathroom. Joey Folsom played the uninvited guest. Depending on the night, the roles may be reversed. They will be doing a "Double Header" the week of June 22-25 in which the play will be performed twice, back to back, with a brief intermission so audiences can see how the show plays out with the actors reversing their roles. I plan on coming back again so I can see the other permutation. The play is that good. No, not good, SENSATIONAL!
Broken Gears Project Theatre
3819 Fairmount, (entrance on Shelby), Dallas, TX 75219
Runs through June 25th
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8:00pm and Tuesday,
June 14 at 8:00pm. Double Header performances at 8:00pm and
Tickets are $15 and $12 for students with ID, $10 for Ten Buck Tuesday, June 14th, and $20 for the "Double Header" performances ($10 for returning patrons, $15 for one show)
For tickets or info go to www.brokengearsprojecttheatre.com or