What is it? Sketch comedy that centers around the life of Mary Theresa Archbold in what's touted as "joyfully wacky" and "heartbreaking." The two-person show also stars Pat Shay and was directed by Best Week Ever contributor Kevin Allison. Archbold won Outstanding Actor in the New York International Fringe Festival.
Why see it? Jazz hands with one hand is called waving. Jazz hands with one hand clutching a fake hand is called hilarious.
Who should go? Anyone who has wanted to laugh at missing appendages, but sought more than "Actors Shake Hands. Hand Comes Off. Shock. Laughter. Lights Up."
PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 55 min. • June 4-6 at 7 p.m.; June 7 at 6 p.m. • American Theater, 446 King St. • (888) 374-2656
Hand Out: One-armed woman laughs at the difference
It's hard to laugh at someone society considers unfortunate — unless the unfortunate person is in on the joke. Rednecks are funny no matter who's telling the joke — redneck or otherwise. But a comedian is not going to get far looking for laughs about how a blind person has to feel to get around a room.
Eli Newell, ringleader for the Upright Citizens Brigade, has no trouble pointing to his most uncomfortable show. One time in Portland as the audience was offering up skit suggestions, a woman sitting with her husband in the front row shouted "fake legs" and pointed to her husband in his chair. A cast member who hadn't seen the exchange went with the suggestion.
"It was very uncomfortable," he says.
But what happens when the person is not just in on the joke, but she's telling it? Enter Mary Theresa Archbold.
In Jazz Hand: Tales of a One-Armed Woman, improv comedian Archbold tells semi-autobiographical stories about her life as a congenital amputee born without one lower arm.
"For years and years, people would tell me to write a show about it," she says.
Archbold brings up the time she tried out for a dancing role in the show Anything Goes. During her tap dancing routine, her arm flew off and jaws hit the floor.
"I just kept dancing, picked it up, and, by the end of the number, I had it back on," she says.
While one might imagine uncomfortable chuckles from the audience whenever Archbold tells one of her tales, the comedian says that's not the case. They know they're allowed to laugh.
"It's never a pity party, we're not going to make you cry. There's singing and dancing," she says. "My theory is that everybody has a thing that they try to hide. Some people's are just more visible. I put it out there and say, 'Look, it's okay. I make fun of it.'"
Others short an appendage who have seen the show have been almost universally supportive, Archbold says.
"They say, 'I related to every single piece you did,'" she says.
The 45-minute show — which also features Archbold's husband and fellow improv comedian Pat Shay — has received rave reviews for runs in New York, with several reviewers saying it leaves them wanting more. When the show premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival, Archbold won an outstanding acting award among a field of 180 shows.
"It was surprising because I don't feel like I was playing a role," she says. "I was just playing myself."