Jazz Hand: Tales of a One Armed Woman
nytheatre.com review by Michael Ferrell
August 16, 2007
Jazz Hand is a two-person sketch show that includes hilarious personal monologues, dancing, singing, and most of all, cute and clever scenes. The show stars Mary Theresa Archbold and her husband, Pat Shay, two actors who are so incredibly likable that when the show is over, you want to watch them do another show and then take them out for coffee.
Mary Theresa Archbold is a talented performer who has one arm. Jazz Hand addresses some of the awkward and absurd situations that she has encountered throughout her life. Archbold's personal monologues hold a mirror up to the "bi-manual" (what she calls two-handers) world, playfully mocking the various reactions people have when they discover her prosthesis, from "I don't know how you get out of bed in the morning," to calling her whenever they see someone on Oprah who has one arm (in case she doesn't know what it's like), Archbold and Shay play a multitude of characters in various settings, with Archbold usually playing herself at different stages of her life.
Their background is improv and sketch comedy, having trained and taught in the mecca of those two disciplines, Chicago, at both ImprovOlympic and Second City. The director, Kevin Allison, is the artistic director of the Peoples Improv Theater here in New York. What all this adds up to is a show that is not only funny but smart, using the truth of a situation to inform the absurdity. If I'm not mistaken, part of what the creative team here teaches is that in sketch comedy, the premise comes first, but what makes it actually funny is what is going on between the two characters onstage. Shay and Archbold make this concept work as they move effortlessly in and out of scenes with perfectly timed blackouts (kudos to the uncredited blackout master). With its roots in long-form improv, the show uses "call-backs" and doesn't deny anything that may happen onstage or in the audience, which gives the show a fun, casual feel.
After only 45 minutes, unfortunately, the show is over. Which is to say, they could relax and take their time with some of the scenes. They leave you wanting more, which is both a good and bad thing. Personally, I hope they will continue to develop this show, possibly adding more from the perspective of the guy who's married to the "one armed woman," Pat Shay, which was a very interesting touch. Perhaps they could even add some more scenes that may be a bit tangential but still relevant, with some more twists and turns in unexpected directions.
Whatever they decide to do, they have a very strong foundation in Jazz Hand, a family-friendly celebration of individuality and strength.