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REVIEWS

Jeff Swearingen and Joey Folsom

Review: The Hand | Broken Gears Project Theatre


Hand Guignol

Broken Gears performs an absurd appendage-ectomy with The Hand.



published Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The movie Psycho put a fear factor in taking a shower when alone in your home or a hotel room, much like Jaws would later do for swimming in the ocean. The horror in both of those comes with the unexpected danger from the victim's point of view, from the other side or underneath—although we, the viewer, still scream every time we see it.

In Germán Madrid's one-act play La Mano (The Hand), directed by Andy Baldwin and given a world premiere English translation by Lauren Roark for Broken Gears Project Theatre, there's a shower, knife and buckets of blood (or at least a tiny pail's worth). The event that will cause the bloodshed—the severing of a human hand—is hinted at early on.

While we expect some horror, what keeps the chills coming in this two-hander (three?) are the performances by Joey Folsom and Jeff Swearingen, building tension so that we're never quite sure who the victim is.

It takes place in the bathroom of a well-to-do man (the character is called The Man), who finds himself in a prickly situation when he's visited by another man (The Other Man). Initially, their banter makes it unclear of the relationship. Are they lovers? Is The Man a hustler? Is The Other Man a crazy relative?

The play is absurdism lite with a nod to Artaudian Theatre of Cruelty, and would probably be a toss-off with a lesser crew, which includes the designers. The team of Curtis Stiles, Andy Baldwin and Elias Taylorson have come up with a bathroom and shower design (the water works, and the slip factor is part of the danger) that proves there's no reason small theaters shouldn't have expensive-looking, fantastic sets.

Like a Didi and Gogo stuck in a torture-porn flick, they word-wrestle over something that both of them value highly and why it's wanted and needed—and even deserved. And then there's the bloody event, which you can probably guess from the title and the photos that accompany this review.

The Hand offers no gut-punch sense of hopelessness, but there is a hint that things are out of harmony, which is doled out in unexpectedly funny ways.

At the Thursday preview, Folsom played The Man and Swearingen played The Other Man. It seems ideal casting, mainly because Swearingen excels at crazed characters and at the kind of physical performance required by The Other Man near the play's end. But in an interesting twist, the actors will alternate roles throughout the run. I hope to catch it the other way around at some point.

We know Folsom can exude love-struck youth; and play the poetic, tortured soul; and that he has dramatic heft with classical material. But especially in the first half of The Hand, as The Man, he manages a potent mix of mystery, curiosity and arrogance that expertly feeds the mind games that keep The Hand simmering until it's time for the blood-filled pot to boil over.

Swearingen's performance dovetails with it perfectly; and when his character is not in as much control as he thinks he is, he still puts up a good fight.

It's easy to imagine that in its original Spanish, the langauge would be more poetic. But the rawness of Roark's translation is forgiven thanks to Baldwin's nuanced direction and Folsom and Swearingen's crafty mental one-upmanship.

They play these two men as if think they know each other like the back of their you-know-what.

◊ Below is the schedule for the rest of the run, and who's playing which role:

  • Wed, June 8 - Jeff Swearingen as The Man/Joey Folsom as The Other Man
  • Thurs, June 9 - Joey Folsom as The Man/Jeff Swearingen as The Other Man
  •  Fri, June 10 - Jeff Swearingen as The Man/Joey Folsom as The Other Man
  •  Sat, June 11 - Joey Folsom as Rich/Jeff Swearingen as The Other Man
  • Tues, June 14 - Joey Folsom as The Man/Jeff Swearingen as The Other Man
  • Wed, June 15 - Jeff Swearingen as The Man/Joey Folsom as The Other Man
  • Thurs, June 16 - Joey Folsom as The Man/Jeff Swearingen as The Other Man
  • Fri, June 17 - Jeff Swearingen as The Man/Joey Folsom as The Other Man
  • Sat, June 18 - Joey Folsom as The Man/Jeff Swearingen as The Other Man
  • Wed, June 22 - Jeff Swearingen as The Man/Joey Folsom as The Other Man
  • Thurs, June 23 - Joey Folsom as The Man/Jeff Swearingen as The Other Man
  • Fri, June 24 - Jeff Swearingen as The Man/Joey Folsom as The Other Man
  • Sat, June 25 - Joey Folsom as The Man/Jeff Swearingen as The Other Man
 Thanks For Reading




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Hand Guignol
Broken Gears performs an absurd appendage-ectomy with The Hand.
by Mark Lowry

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