One Arm


Director: Fred Abrahamse

Cast: Marcel Meyer and Nicholas Dallas

Music: Charl-Johan Lingenfelder

Venue: Artscape Arena

until: September 14

Rating: ****

ABRAHAMSE and Meyer Productions have done it again: One Arm is another in the growing number of Tennessee Williams works staged by this creative partnership and, like its predecessors, elicits all the subtleties of Williams’s text to generate riveting theatre.

Although originally conceived as a poem, One Arm lends itself to reinvention as a drama; the theme – that of mutilation and its tran- scendence – has all the ingredients of timeless tragedy. A young and arrestingly handsome boxer loses his right arm, his self-respect, and his moral compass in one senseless accident. Thereafter his life spirals ever downwards as he turns to prostitution for a living, his pursuit of money making him as emotionally sterile as “a broken statue of Apollo” (Williams’s description of the boxer Ollie).

Structurally, this play consists of a series of flashbacks chronicling Ollie’s life from the exuberance of his time in the Navy as an aspiring champion boxer, to the bleakness of the present, the eve of his execution for a murder he committed in revulsion at the depths to which his career had brought him.

As we revisit his past, a variety of individuals who collectively influenced him cross the stage, all impersonated with exemplary finesse by Nicholas Dallas; in effect, though, One Arm is a two-hander featuring the maimed boxer (Marcel Meyer) and a young minister of the church, played by Dallas. The two performances complement each other in the characters’ intermittent, mesmerising conversation.

Meyer convincingly manages the gradual increase in the condemned man’s willingness to communicate with his visitor; Dallas gives a flawless portrayal of his complex persona, starting with an account of his youthful fascination with a golden panther (the analogy between the caged beast and Ollie becomes clear as the play unfolds). Physical contact between the two progresses from remoteness, cleverly staged in their exchange of objects, to ultimate intimacy when Ollie invites the minister to “take” him in a redemptive sexual act…

Staging such a work poses significant challenges which Abrahamse has taken in his stride: the monochromatic minimalism of four chairs, some garments, and inventive lighting successfully evoke the confines of a cell and the array of places outside death row, scenes of Ollie’s painful experience of life.

Haunting, visceral, and intellectually satisfying, One Arm has much to offer discerning theatre-goers.