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One Arm Offers a New Look at Old Tennessee Williams Story

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Twin Cities audiences will get a second chance to see a rare Tennessee Williams work over the next two weekends when One Arm returns to the stage.

The piece, about a boxer who turns to hustling after losing an arm, was a hit at last year's Minnesota Fringe Festival. Director Joe Stodola is back, along with some players from last year's version.

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The work is drawn from a short story Williams penned in the 1940s. He later wrote several drafts of a screenplay, but never developed it for the stage. It took Moises Kaufman — whose work includes The Laramie Project and other documentary-style pieces — to delve into the various iterations and build a version for the stage.

"The context the characters are placed in is a lot more expressionistic, a lot more like his later work in the writing style, but with the characters it feels like a Tennessee Williams play all the way through," Stodola says.

Near the end of his college career, Stodola was working on his senior thesis about Oscar Wilde. Through a colleague, Stodola connected with Kaufman, whose work also includes Gross Indecencies, which explores the Wilde's libel trial.

Since then, "we've been corresponding for a number of years. He brought this piece to me after he had finished it Off-Broadway, and asked me to see if I could do it over in the Twin Cities."

Stodola presented the work at last summer's Minnesota Fringe Festival. For that, he had to trim the piece down from 90 to 60 minutes.

"For the Fringe, it was about what in the piece was important to me. With limited resources, you are limited to what kind of stories you can tell," Stodola says.

This version returns the cut material, and features two actors from the original production. The rest are new to the piece, but "are actors I have worked with in the past," Stodola says.

"We have been able to delve a lot deeper into the material. It has been in development long enough, so we had time before jumping into the rehearsal room. I wouldn't say that the Fringe production was lacking, but this allows you to explore the piece in all of its complexity," he says.

The company features Torsten Johnson, H. Adam Harris, Craig Johnson, James Kunz, Aeysha Kinnunen, and Adam Qualls.

The play also showcases how Williams played with the very form of theater, and — as a modern version of the story — his characters were very real. "He was way ahead of his time as an artist and a person. He had to code his views on sexuality. This piece is a much more frank and candid version of that," Stodola says.

All of this makes One Arm a valuable addition to Williams's body of work. "I think there is something very wonderful about taking text from the past and breathing new life into it. It fills in a gap of our history that we are not necessarily taught about," he says.

IF YOU GO:

One Arm Friday through May 17 The Lab Theater 7100 First St. N., Minneapolis $10-$25 For tickets and more information, call 612-333-7977 or visit online.