nytheatre.com review by Joe LaRue
August 15, 2004
In Armless, Sam Turich plays John, a man who, because of a rare disorder, feels that he must cut off his arms in order to “feel complete.” So, perhaps it is intentional that I left the show feeling that the experience was, well, missing something.
The play begins on a strong note, taking John’s disorder seriously, and finding comedy within that seriousness. John tries desperately to leave a revealing message on the answering machine for his wife to find—his inability to speak the words, his frustration and horror at his own desires fuel the scene. Playwright Kyle Jarrow is able to wrench a good amount of suspense by holding his cards close: twenty minutes pass before we actually hear specifics about John’s disorder, or of his violent intentions.
Unfortunately the suspense only lasts so long—the show’s program contains detailed notes explaining the finer points of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), and it is disappointing to see those same points performed on stage without greater exploration.
Turich’s performance as John is nicely modulated and well grounded, though we often find his character playing the same actions and saying the same things to his cast-mates over and over again. Colleen Quinlan does the best job of finding truthfulness in the show’s outlandish comic setups. As “The Doctor” and “The Receptionist,” Robert Carr and Gabrielle Reznek do the best they can with a standard “boss chasing the secretary around the desk” scenario.
Armless takes a dive into slapstick in its latter half, especially during the big, potentially gory final scene. I could see what director Ian Tresselt was going for: a heightened state of reality in which comic moments would arise out of the honesty of the character’s desires. Tresselt is also giving us supporting characters who are over-the-top, and who are intended to “match” John in their outlandish pursuits, but it is a disservice to the play, and to a very real disorder that the comic elements take over and yank the emotional truth from John’s struggle.