Strange things are afoot (at hand?) in Broken Gears Project Theatre’s latest offbeat offering, Germán Madrid’s The Hand, directed by Andy Baldwin and featuring a world premiere English translation by Loren Roark.
The lights come up on the sixth and final production of BGPT stellar 2010-2011 season, and the disembodied voice of The Narrator (Morgan McClure) informs us that we are “in a bathroom of a house, in a city, in a country, on a continent…” Two men are going about their personal hygiene, seemingly oblivious to each other until the nature of their most peculiar relationship is slowly revealed. Without giving too much away, One Man has something The Other Man wants to reclaim (hint: think about the title).
Madrid’s one-act is a suspenseful socio-political play with many onion-like layers that Baldwin unfolds with delicious tension. The story inhabits a land of dreamlike unreality – “mysterious treasures” – and quasi-absurd otherworldliness.
In an intriguing twist to a play already rife with them, the two roles will alternate actors between performances. Baldwin was inspired by a similar experiment between John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Sam Shepard’s True West on Broadway.
Joey Folsom played The Man (The Rich Man) in the first performance I saw. He has that remarkable ease and relaxation of the very wealthy down pat. It’s a detached haughtiness that even when the character turns ugly still comes off as cool (think James Spader). Jeff Swearingen as The Other Man (The Poor Man) imbues an eerie, off-putting friendliness, but possesses a striking authenticity of the oppressed when he demands his due.
In the second performance Folsom was The Other Man. His interpretation is a chipper, loopy lark of a man with a mad grin. A testament to his talents, Folsom luxuriates in both roles, and seems to be happy living in either of these skins. Swearingen’s The Man is much more tentative than Folsom’s iteration, almost unsure of himself in a new money way. It’s a conscious departure that pays dividends toward fresh insights into the character that I did not catch the first time around.
These nuggets of perspective wisdom are part of the reason that Folsom and Swearingen share development credit with Baldwin. Elias Taylorson, Curt Stiles, and Baldwin deserve some hard-won kudos for transforming BGPT’s space into very believable bathroom setup, plumbing and fixtures included, and on a tight budget too. Roark’s translation is a bit stilted, but still poetic and full of the riddling, back and forth nature of the original. Regardless, Broken Gears continues to blaze unbroken paths.
Here’s the schedule of performances and who will be playing which role each night:
Fri, June 10 – Jeff as Rich Man/Joey Folsom as Poor Man
Sat, June 11 – Joey as Rich/Jeff Swearingen as Poor Man
Tues, June 14 – Joey as Rich Man/Jeff Swearingen as Poor Man
Wed, June 15 – Jeff as Rich Man/Joey Folsom as Poor Man
Thurs, June 16 – Joey as Rich Man/Jeff Swearingen as Poor Man
Fri, June 17 – Jeff as Rich Man/Joey Folsom as Poor Man
Sat, June 18 – Joey as Rich Man/Jeff Swearingen as Poor Man
Wed, June 22 – Jeff as Rich Man/Joey Folsom as Poor Man*
Thurs, June 23 – Joey as Rich Man/Jeff Swearingen as Poor Man*
Fri, June 24 – Jeff as Rich Man/Joey Folsom as Poor Man*
Sat, June 25 – Joey as Rich Man/Jeff Swearingen as Poor Man*
*For the final week 6/22 thru 6/25: BGPT will do two shows in one evening called the Broken Gears ‘Back Hand’ – “Two Actors double down for a role-swapping two Show Evening. Patrons see one show and come back for the second after a brief intermission.”