Mary Theresa Archbold has been dealing with people looking at her arm her entire life. Some stare at it, some avoid it, and some ask a lot of questions. For her husband, Pat Shay, people are either inquisitive or perverse. With so many of these experiences behind them, Archbold and her husband have brought their stories to Charleston in Jazz Hand: Tales of a One Armed Woman. The fast-paced vignettes range from childhood embarrassments to grown-up questions about having kids — and it all comes back to the arm.
There are arms flying off, there are clueless boyfriends wondering why she pays tolls with her right hand, there are teachers wondering if she’ll ever know if she’s happy if she can’t clap her hands.
The chemistry between a husband and wife stage team doesn’t have to be expounded on, let’s just say they’ve got it. Archbold is sweet, frank, and funny, with one hell of a kick, one hell of a split, and one hell of a jazz hand. She’s got quite a comedic wit to her, but considering the comedy usually comes in how people react to a one-armed woman, and she’s got the one arm, she’s the straight man through most of the skits. Shay gets the laughs and he earns them with an animated performance that can’t even hide behind a fake beard and sloppy tunic. But some of the show just isn’t funny, and that’s okay. Anyone who comes to a show called Tales of a One-Armed Woman should expect a little advocacy with their comedy.
Archbold tells the audience at one point that people seem to have put her in their mental Rolodex as One-Armed Mary. There’s another point when she talks about playing pat-a-cake as a child and giving the other kids bloody hands. Shay talks about being married to a woman who has two arms, only one is really, really expensive, and then you see a scene from Archbold’s childhood where her brother accidentally rips off a finger.
But everything comes back to a laugh and, with a little help from God (no, really), a musical number. In the end, audiences feel good about sharing the laugh, knowing you’re really not laughing at a disability, you’re laughing at the uncomfortably comical situations that come with being different.
Jazz Hand: Tale of a One-Armed Woman • Piccol Fringe • $15 • 55 min. • June 5-6 at 7 p.m.; June 7 at 6 p.m. • American Theater, 446 King St. • (888) 374-2656