Four One-Legged Men
nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 17, 2006
Gary Corbin, the writer and performer of Four One-Legged Men, is a cancer survivor of 30 years and an above-knee amputee. In his show, he portrays four men who are also one-legged and through their stories, both funny and powerful, we see how the characters deal with their disability and the way they are treated by others. There is much to recommend in this show, including surprising character details that make for very compelling theatre.
In the first segment, "A Day In The Life of Jamie Prince," a man is racked with guilt for not visiting his grandfather in a nursing home. It is not immediately clear what this has to do with being an amputee. Maybe it's that he compares his life to that of the old man, helpless and bedridden, but Jamie walks with only a slight limp and in a business suit, looks like any other successful professional. He sits by his grandfather's bed to read to him stories he has written. These stories make up the other three segments.
The first story and second segment, "Rainbow," takes place in the '50s. A man is kicked out of his house after playing a trick on his wife's friends. They have come over for a women's group committee meeting and his wife, ashamed of her husband's disability, asks him to hide upstairs till they leave. Instead, he hides his leg in the bathroom tub, where the most snobbish of the women, "Mrs. Kong" (as in King Kong) discovers it and runs screaming into the street without pulling up her pants first. Corbin portrays the man as a salty wisecracker, so it's a beautiful turn when he then tells us the dream he had the night before, in which he is with the family members who love him, dancing in front of a double rainbow.
The second character is Miss Scarlett, a gay Southern man living with his religious and disapproving parents. He is dressed as a nurse for a costume party, and after leaving his friend's house after a fight, breaks his prosthesis while running for a bus and is stranded. He refers to his leg as his daughter and has named it "Vontessa." He is not only struggling with not being accepted for his disability and homosexuality, he is also a dark-skinned African American who is rejected by the other dark-skinned men he prefers for whites. One man in particular, the boyfriend of his friend, Miss Melanie, breaks his heart. But just like the literary Miss Scarlett, he has the humor and strength of mind to survive another day.
The third and final character is a complete break from Miss Scarlett, the man who dreams of rainbows, or Jamie. There is no softness, just unmitigated strength and power in "Waiting For Oz." An injured Vietnam vet who only wanted to be a modern-dancer has come back from the war. This is the first time we see Corbin without his prosthesis. On one leg, he performs an emotional powerhouse of a dance to "Proud Mary" that had the audience enthralled and cheering.
Director William Martin does a fine job with setting the pace and stage picture. The only thing that could have made the event even more riveting would have been Corbin's story of his own survival. But through his character work, creating human beings who are so much more than their so-called limitations, he has done this as well.