If only there was more substance to German Madrid’s short one-act play The Hand than turning on a grisly gimmick to make a political statement about have’s and have not’s, I might find myself more intrigued. I found it curious as an acting exercise at Broken Gears Project Theatre, but not satisfying as a full evening’s performance.
Described as “Spain’s gift to Teatro de la Luna’s Eleventh International Festival of Hispanic Theater”, Madrid’s 2008 work takes place in the well-appointed bathroom of a wealthy man’s home. Two men occupy the bathroom performing routine ablutions. One owns the room and its contents; the other is an uninvited guest, a home invader, yet the first man doesn’t seem to mind. The wealthy man possesses an object that presumably once belonged to the ‘visitor’, who has come to reclaim it. The nature of the object and the wealthy man’s mild response to the presence of the invader, and his request, place the playlet in an absurdist, grotesque category from the start.
Broken Gears Project Theatre mounts a production of The Hand in its Oak Lawn cottage, directed by respected regional artist Andy Baldwin. Presenting his actors, Jeff Swearingen and Joey Folsom, in a contained, naturalistic style, Baldwin plumbs the work’s limited depths and keeps them in a realistic realm, preventing the play’s bizarreness (and proselytizing) from overwhelming the audience.
Swearingen and Folsom exhibit easy complimentarity on stage together and handle the complexity of performing a grisly deed behind a shower curtain with realistic veracity. Set design by Baldwin, Curt Stiles and Elias Taylorson provides extensive detail but seems overdone, functions at odds with the highly symbolic nature of the work. Loud music drowns out incomprehensible narration by Morgan McClure; why does the play require narration, anyway?
This piece feels like it belongs in a festival of One-Acts, paired with something less strange and performed with minimal scenery and effects. Considerable energy, artistic talent, money and time have clearly gone into producing The Hand. Does the work warrant it? Swearingen and Folsom switch roles on alternate nights. It would make a more interesting evening, great fun for their respective fan bases, if they switched roles every performance, running the playlet twice a night. Feel like a meal, not an appetizer.
Translated from the Spanish by Loren Roark
Runs through June 25